Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s revelation that he started his book, Truth to Power, shortly after taking office has surprised many people.
In an interview with Financial Mail editor Rob Rose, De Ruyter said he “began collecting information for the book six months after taking over as CEO in January 2020”.
“I’d make copious notes, so what I’d do was, every Sunday between about 8:00 and midday, I’d get those thoughts down on paper,” he told Financial Mail.
“Then, over the past few months, I worked with an editorial team from Penguin who helped me put it all together.”
The book, which went on sale on Sunday, 14 May, was kept secret. Staff at Exclusive Books told Daily Investor they were unaware of the book’s launch.
Many people wondered how he could produce such an extensive book within weeks after he left Eskom, and his discussion with Rose explains it.
De Ruyter said he did not get approval from Eskom to write the book during his employment as chief executive.
However, he said he received “extensive legal opinion, and the lawyers ultimately said there was no issue”.
Whether De Ruyter’s conduct was legal is subject to fierce debate, and he is now facing legal action for his behaviour.
Eskom chairman Mpho Makwana said the board is reviewing several alleged “transgressions” De Ruyter committed in media interviews and his recently published book.
Makwana said De Ruyter had broken the trust of the utility in the “most repulsive manner possible”, which is unbecoming of a CEO.
Hero and villain
De Ruyter received widespread praise for exposing staggering levels of corruption and incompetence at the power utility.
He was also commended for lifting the lid on what happened inside the boardrooms and government meetings where South Africa’s future is shaped.
However, many people questioned whether he did the right thing to keep his book a secret from his employer and the people he met and was writing about.
In these meetings, De Ruyter knew he was writing a book, but the other people did not have the same knowledge.
They would have behaved differently if given the same information that De Ruyter had – that their utterings were documents and would appear in a book.
Another criticism is that De Ruyter could have used the time he spent on writing a book to visit struggling power stations and work on resolving the electricity crisis.
A well-known South African executive, who asked not to be named, said De Ruyter was so obsessed with exposing corruption that he failed his primary task – fixing and running Eskom.
Energy analyst Chris Yelland told Carte Blanche that De Ruyter failed to mobilise Eskom and did not surround himself with the right people.
“He certainly did not end load-shedding, which is a core measure of Eskom’s operational performance,” Yelland said.
“He also did not solve Eskom’s financial problems as the power utility still relies on massive government bailouts. Environmentally, Eskom is also in deep trouble.”
Rapport senior journalist Antoinette Slabbert, who covered Eskom for years, said De Ruyter failed in his task as CEO to create a good functioning Eskom.
She added that he failed for many reasons, as described in his book. However, ultimately, Eskom’s performance deteriorated during his watch.