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André de Ruyter launched investigations into corruption and organized crime at South Africa’s state-owned energy company, Eskom, where he was CEO. Soon after he tendered his resignation in December, he says someone slipped cyanide into his coffee, Quartz reported. He survived the alleged attempt on his life but the episode illustrates how energy, politics, and lawbreaking are intertwined in the troubled country.

De Ruyter resigned after Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe criticized him for failing to prevent the rolling blackouts that have become commonplace in South Africa, instigating deep cynicism and unrest among the citizenry. “Eskom by not attending to load-shedding is actively agitating for the overthrow of the state,” said Mantashe, according to Voice of America. South Africans refer to blackouts as “load-shedding.”

Due to years of neglect and lack of maintenance, South Africans experienced a total of four months without electricity, the Wall Street Journal wrote. Analysts forecast that the problem will cut 2 percent off the country’s gross domestic product this year.

The impact goes far beyond the economy.

People are dying in hospitals, CNN reported. Livestock is perishing in barns when ventilation systems stop. Crime, traditionally high in South Africa, is skyrocketing as home alarm systems shut down. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa now might declare a national disaster like the one he instituted in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. Water shortages are also becoming more frequent, making it even harder to simply live, added the Maverick.

It’s not clear if South Africans have any confidence in Ramaphosa or his administration to solve the problem, however.

Last year, a judicial commission found that Ramaphosa was mishandling allegations of misconduct in government, noted Transparency International. At the same time, the president is combatting allegations that he covered up a theft of at least $580,000 from his farm in 2020 in order to conceal how he acquired so much cash in the first place. The scandal has become known as “Farmgate.”

While he hinted that he might resign, Ramaphosa managed to avoid impeachment and won reelection as leader of the African National Congress, the country’s most important political party, late last year, the Guardian wrote. His problems, incidentally, are arguably small compared with the corruption allegations that his predecessor, former President Jacob Zuma, is still facing, the Associated Press added.

Commenting in Forbes, Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the conservative Heritage Foundation argued that the South African government should privatize power plants to attract investors and inject competition into energy markets. She noted that nobody in South African politics would support that idea, however.

The people certainly wouldn’t trust the government to handle such reforms.

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