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'Never Have a Personalized Mug': CEO in South Africa Allegedly Poisoned with Cyanide In Coffee Mug The former CEO of state-owned energy company Eskom claims he was poisoned with cyanide in December.

By Gabrielle Bienasz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy company.
An Eskom power station in the town of Kriel in South Africa.

There's more than one way to leave a job, but being poisoned with cyanide is not high on the list.

But that's exactly what happened in South Africa, says Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of state-owned energy supplier Eskom, per Insider. The incident reportedly occurred in early December, he said, in a now-deleted (but viewed by Insider) interview with Annika Larsen on eNews Channel Africa Tuesday.

In the interview, De Ruyter claimed the cyanide was in his coffee. It is unclear who poisoned him — if such an event occurred.

"So this is a recommendation and learning that I can share, never have a personalized mug. It's a bad idea," he said.

De Ruyter became CEO of Eskom in 2020. The energy company is the country's primary supplier of energy but is embattled: It has been instituting blackouts periodically since 2008, because it doesn't have enough supply to meet demand, per Bloomberg.

But things have reached a new level, the outlet noted. Eskom raised energy rationing, called "load-shedding," in the country, to record levels on Tuesday. People have struggled to access necessities like oxygen machines due to the daily blackouts, and funeral homes are dealing with rotting corpses, per CNN.

De Ruyter privately handed in his resignation on December 12, per Insider. That same day, he encountered a cup of coffee on his desk and drank it.

He said he asked his personal assistant to bring him coffee, but the mug was left alone on a table for a period of time because the coffee machine was not working.

"By the time she came back, the machine had been repaired, and a coffee was then presented to me. I then drank this coffee and didn't notice anything amiss," De Ruyter said.

Then, he said, he began to feel disoriented, forgetful, and "nauseous."

"I started gasping for air. I was panting and then I said: 'There's something wrong here, I need to get to a doctor quickly,'" he said in the interview.

He claimed that he was tested and treated for poisoning at the hospital. Eskom said in early January the police were investigating the incident.

As for why the country experiences blackouts: "The blackouts are caused by an aging fleet of coal-fired power stations that the dysfunctional state power company, Eskom, is struggling to keep online," The New York Times wrote earlier this month. South Africa has declared a "state of disaster" over the issue, the outlet added.

De Ruyter claimed in the interview, per Insider, that the blackouts were in part due to corruption from a "high-level politician" and organized crime.

Regardless, it won't be De Ruyter's problem anymore. The original plan was for him to stay on as CEO until March, but after the interview aired, the company announced that "he will be released from his position with immediate effect."

Gabrielle Bienasz is a staff writer at Entrepreneur. She previously worked at Insider and Inc. Magazine. 

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