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Former Eskom CEO saga proves apartheid is alive and kicking

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REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham – Andre de Ruyter, Group Chief Executive of state-owned power utility Eskom speaks during a media briefing in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 31, 2020.

By Prof. Sipho Seepe

The revelation that former Eskom honcho, Andre de Ruyter, relied on a flawed report compiled by an erstwhile apartheid agent, Tony Oosthuizen, for his seemingly outlandish corruption claims against certain individuals has been met with both shock and relief. Equally disturbing is the fact that Business Leadership SA, a self-styled organisation of ethical leadership funded De Ruyter’s clandestine investigation. De Ruyter was the talk of the town following his widely covered interview with television host Annika Larsen.

De Ruyter’s claims were embarrassing for President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Pravin Gordhan, and the ANC. They had stuck their neck out for their man, even in the face of his glaring incompetence. He was treated royally. Today, they use all sorts of expletives to debase/insult their former darling. It has since emerged that De Ruyter did not have the security clearance required for someone in such a key position. Being white in the new dawn is still a passport of privilege, a key to top posts, even when the necessary qualifications and clearances are lacking.

De Ruyter’s detractors are relieved that he has finally exposed himself for what he is. Former president Thabo Mbeki argued that De Ruyter is “the classical extreme right-wing anti­ communist fanatic of the apartheid years – a man driven by his ideological conviction to destroy the anti-Christ, the ANC! Now it looks very strange indeed that we could have counted on this sworn right-wing enemy of the ANC and the democratic revolution to rescue Eskom from its counter-revolutionary captors!”

The shock that De Ruyter sought the services of an apartheid spy is misplaced. It derives from the general misconception of the post-1994 dispensation. The supposedly new dispensation did not dismantle apartheid’s architecture. If anything, apartheid was given a lease of life. Jonty Steinberg’s description of South Africa’s political transition is worth repeating ad infinitum.

Steinberg observed (Business Day 12/12/2014):

“The freedom South Africans acquired in 1994 was mercurial and slippery. Politically, the changes were dramatic. The electorate expanded overnight to include every adult. But the structure of society stayed much the same. And white people remained white people, doing what white people had always done: running the professions, the corporations, the universities. Expertise, wealth, technical knowledge, social confidence – all of these remained deeply associated with whiteness.”

The persistence of apartheid architecture can be attributed to the fact that the ANC was either unable or unwilling to radically transform the apartheid state. It was satisfied with “inheriting the colonially designed structures that did not serve African needs and demands very well”. The post-1994 dispensation has since metamorphosed into what Professor Ndlovu Gatsheni describes as a “post-colonial neocolonized world” defined by the persistence of “the structural, systemic, cultural, discursive, and epistemological pattern of domination and exploitation that has engulfed Africans since (the advent of colonial domination).”

Africans have been duped to settle for emancipatory pretensions instead of real freedom. Regarding this, Mbeki could not have been more brutally honest.

Mbeki observed:

“South Africa is a country of two nations. One of these nations is white, and relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication, and other infrastructure… The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general, and the disabled. “This nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication, and other infrastructure. It has virtually no possibility to exercise what in reality amounts to a theoretical right to equal opportunity, with that right being equal within this black nation only to the extent that it is equally incapable of realization.”

The reproduction of the apartheid architecture is sustained by the skilful deployment of what the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser describes as the state’s ideological and repressive apparatus. According to Althusser, repressive state apparatus comprise the government, the judiciary, the police, and the armed forces whose basic function is to advance and protect the interest of the ruling class. Ideological state apparatus comprises institutions that shape the master narrative of the time. They are part of the superstructure that provides the theoretical, cultural, and ideological logic that undergirds the system. They include media outlets, churches, social and sports clubs, and the family. Their role is to reinforce the ideas and control of the dominant/ruling class. Accordingly, a social class cannot hold state power unless it simultaneously exercises domination over and through the deployment of the repressive and ideological apparatus.

Apartheid masters understood this very well. Regarding the deployment of the ideological apparatus, Steve Biko eloquently argued. “The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country… To a large extent, the evildoers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form… His heart yearns for the comfort of white society and makes him blame himself for not having been ‘educated’ enough to warrant such luxury. Celebrated achievements by whites in the field of science – which he understands only hazily serve to make him rather convinced of the futility of resistance and to throw away any hopes that change may ever come.”

Commenting on the application of repressive state apparatus, Biko observed: “The white man’s quest for power has led him to destroy with utter ruthlessness whatever has stood in his way… The unnecessary harassment of Africans by police, both in towns and inside townships, and the ruthless application of that scourge of the people, the pass laws, are constant reminders that the white man is on top and that the blacks are only tolerated – with the greatest restraints.”

Post-1994 dispensation represents the ANC’s total failure to understand the kinematics and dynamics of power. The ruling party appears to be trapped in the political imagination of apartheid. The new mandarins have become the modern-day enforcers of apartheid. Founding fathers of liberation movements could not have imagined that after almost 30 years in power, Africans would still be pariahs in the country of their birth.

German Philosopher Karl Marx was correct when he famously opined that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: ie, the class, which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”

The ANC is demonstrably bereft of ideas. It only exists to be in office. It no longer pretends to be a revolutionary party. In his 2017 report the then secretary-general of the ANC Gwede Mantashe, was correct to point out that “being in power is rapidly becoming a source of political bankruptcy”. What the De Ruyter debacle proves, is that the logic of apartheid remains intact. Thanks to the ANC’s ideological bankruptcy. FW de Klerk went to his grave comforted by the fact that under Ramaphosa, the apartheid project will remain intact.

Prof. Sipho Seepe is an independent political analyst.