Hating De Ruyter

Jeremy Gordin on the racialised response to the Eskom CEO's departing revelations

I’ve grown so mentally doddery that to find out where I was and what I was allegedly doing at certain times of my life, I’m forced to consult certain ‘documents’. Heaven help me if, for whatever reason, my computer gets ‘wiped’[i].

Ah, here we are. According to my ‘CV file,’ it was from 2004 to 2006 that I worked in downtown Johannesburg as inter alia Acting Editor of the (former Independent Newspapers’) Independent News Network (INN) [ii]. If I didn’t have this file, I’d have guessed that I was at INN in the late 90s.

No matter. What I do recall is that for a year or more, I had to be at my desk by 6am to ‘copy taste’ and dispatch international articles to the group newspapers for their morning editions; and that also there at that time were my friend and shabbos goy, Kevin Ritchie [iii], and the late newspaper maestro Dave Hazelhurst, Day Editor of The Star [iv] ; and that, because Hazelhurst was ultra-careful about not running ‘old’ material in the morning edition, we three had countless conversations about whether article X ‘had legs or not,’ as journos like (or liked?) to phrase it.

One recent ‘story’ that’s had (and has) the most remarkable pair of legs ­– more remarkable than even Charlize Theron’s [v] – one that seems to have many pairs of legs, not to mention a plethora of tentacles, has been the e.NCA’s (channel 403’s) interview with André de Ruyter, former Eskom CEO [vi].

We all know why this is turning out to be the story of the year, if not the decade. Talking of which, I note that Radio 702’s Mandy ‘Mandele’ Weiner has also jumped onto the bandwagon (where right now it’s very crowded) and written a column about it in the SA Jewish Report.

Weiner’s emphasis is on the ‘whistleblowing’ element of De Ruyter’s story because, we are told, “Weiner’s recent book, The Whistleblowers, will be republished in April”. Right on, sister!

In his “candid, bombshell-like account,” Weiner summarizes neatly today, De Ruyter “laid bare the extent of corruption at [Eskom], the degree of political involvement, and the sheer failure by law enforcement agencies and other authorities to hold extraction syndicates and criminal networks to account.”

But, as you might have noticed, not everyone has apparently been convinced by De Ruyter or overjoyed at his shrill blasts on the whistle. The ANC, for example, has presented a master class in how not to handle such issues.

Instead of saying “we’d like to investigate De Ruyter’s claims more carefully and we’re sorry De Ruyter didn’t present us with more chapter and verse before going public,” the ANC government has been its usual dimwitted self.

Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula labelled De Ruyter “right-wing”, a “failure”, and so on, while minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele attacked the former CEO, saying he had “a right-wing attitude”. Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was furious, saying De Ruyter should have kept out of “politics”. Mbalula has threatened to file criminal charges if De Ruyter doesn’t report his allegations to law enforcement. And so on and so forth.

But the ANC is the ANC. I had thought they might be more intelligent about De Ruyter, but I was outwitted yet again – and all we’ve had from the ANC is the usual threats and aggressive evasions of a clearly ‘guilty’ person.

There’ve also been many others playing the same game. One group whose reaction initially amused me was the Commies. Instead of hailing De Ruyter’s revolutionary spirit and his willingness to storm the barricades of corruption (figuratively, of course), the SACP’s Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo attacked De Ruyter.

He wrote that De Ruyter came across “as an apartheid apologist who clearly appeared to be haunted by the ghosts of apartheid oppressors like DF Malan, Hans Strijdom and Hendrik Verwoerd ... The hatred by the apartheid oppressors of [for?] the theory of liberation seems to weigh like a nightmare on De Ruyter’s mind”.

This was a nifty crib from Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), in which Marx wrote, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”. Mashilo has been doing his reading.

But leaving aside whether nightmares can “weigh” (personally, I’d prefer “permeate” – and would have told Marx this if I’d been his editor), and leaving aside whether De Ruyter, if he’s “an apartheid apologist,” would be “haunted by the ghosts of the oppressors” (he’d be welcoming them, wouldn’t he?), Mashilo completely missed the point of what De Ruyter was saying.

In short and this is where it gets less humorous, Mashilo ended up playing the tired ol’ ‘race card’ issue. And Mashilo was also far from being alone. On social media and in other places, countless folk have played the race card, in one way or another.

It’s not considered cricket to criticise a ‘colleague,’ but I (hardly a virgin) was pretty much blown away by Mugabe Ratshikuni on this very site [vii]. He wrote: “The mainstream establishment has never really believed that the ANC would ever govern South Africa properly ... Hence the ‘swart gevaar’ sentiments of the early 1990s have now been formalised into reports and newspaper columns of doom and gloom”.

I see. The pervasive doom and gloom of the moment have nothing to do with the wholesale corruption, apparently crooked high-level politicians, or sabotage about which De Ruyter talked. It’s all the result of the whiteys not really trusting the darkies from the get-go. It’s all about race. Yebo; and, as I might have mentioned a few times before, I’m really Robert Redford.

Ja, it’s the race card that really annoys me. These days it’s not patriotism that’s the last refuge of a scoundrel – it’s playing the race card. It’s intellectually bereft and cowardly.

I was thinking that in countries and societies where “poor people” – previously legally and economically deprived people, who’ve stood with their noses rubbed up against the window panes of expensive restaurants where others were eating expensive food and smoking fat cigars – in such societies, when poor people are finally given the keys to the piggy bank, what else can one expect them to do but empty the piggy bank?

And I bet if you did a statistical analysis of societies in which gross inequalities have been particularly glaring, you’d find (especially once the piggy bank keys had been handed over) that the levels of corruption are going to be sky high.

I’ve also found myself thinking about Steve Biko in the last few days. According to the Donald Woods, Biko said, in talking about Black Consciousness, that “[the black person] rejects himself precisely because he attaches the meaning white to all that is good, in other words he equates good with white. This arises out of his living, and it arises out of his development from childhood”.

And, according to Biko biographer Xolela Mangcu, Biko “believed that blacks needed to affirm their own humanity by overcoming their fears and believing themselves worthy of freedom and its attendant responsibilities”.

In other words, get over yourself, own up to what’s happening, don’t shoot the bloody messenger, deal with the feeding frenzy, and above all don’t insult my intelligence by calling someone like De Ruyter a racist. For heaven’s sake.


[i] I feel a Kafka-type short story coming on ... a fellow wakes up one morning to find he doesn’t exist because his computer’s been shtupped. And it turns out it’s not his so-called enemies who’ve obliterated the computer content, it’s his gorgeous wife.

[ii] INN was an editorial unit put in place by the then management, ostensibly to ‘spearhead’ and ‘centralize’ news gathering for the whole group, viz., to enable management to cut editorial personnel (decrease expenses) at its coastal newspapers and elsewhere too. No wonder the okes in the provinces disliked the four or five of us who comprised INN.

[iii] An excellent fellow who, (perhaps) for his many sins or maybe his talents, later went on to become the editor-in-chief, general manager, chief writer, and chief bottle washer of the Iqbal Survé’s ‘new’ Independent Media – until he and Survé parted company.

[iv] Hazelhurst should have been editor of the whole shebang, but that’s a story for another day.

[v] Am I still allowed to write this sort of thing?

[vi] I sometimes mutter to my gorgeous wife we old okes are allowed to be curmudgeonly that e.NCA’s editorial collective or news editor (if it has one) wouldn’t know a good news story if it bit them in the bum. But I must say that the channel has been re-flighting the De Ruyter interview at every opportunity. Good for them!