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New Eskom CEO Matona is 'weak', say ex-colleagues

Lionel Faull & Sam Sole

The embattled parastatal needs a fighter at its helm, critics say

The first headache for newly appointed Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona is to solve an intractable tender dispute at Koeberg (Photo: David Harrison).

NEWS ANALYSIS

Former parastatal senior executives fear that newly appointed Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona is “weak”, and predict he will struggle to assert his authority at the troubled electricity utility.

Their concerns suggest Matona may be a yes man who will do what he is told, rather than someone who can chart a bold new course at Eskom.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown announced Matona’s appointment on Wednesday. He is currently the director general of public enterprises, but will assume his new position on September 1.

Matona’s most pressing challenges at Eskom will include:

  • Resolving an intractable tender dispute at Koeberg;
  • Bringing the first unit of Medupi power station online within six months, while keeping the country’s lights on in the interim;
  • Addressing the gaping hole in Eskom’s balance sheet;
  • Securing funding for Eskom’s wider new-build programme; and
  • Steering Eskom through intense policy deliberations about its future place in South Africa’s energy landscape.

Needs a fighter
Two former executives who spoke to amaBhungane on condition of anonymity have both interacted with Matona extensively because the parastatals they worked for reported to Matona as the department’s chief accounting officer. Both had a tense relationship with the department.

One observed that Matona “was not a fighter” and expressed concern that he had been parachuted into one of the most challenging jobs in the country.

One executive recalled working with Matona under the previous minister, Malusi Gigaba. “You had an activist minister who behaved like a director general, and Matona just wasn’t able to fight his corner in that environment. In such conditions, you have to fight for your own space. He’s an astute guy, solid, reasonable, very well educated. But at the time, I could see he was not fighting his corner.”

The other echoed these observations about Matona: “He was weak as a director general. He could never do the things that needed to be done. He couldn’t manage his own office, let alone Eskom. Given that he was not a strong candidate, you have to question the motivation for this appointment.”

Matona was unavailable to comment, but department spokesperson Colin Cruywagen said: “People are entitled to their opinions, but he has just achieved a clean audit and met 82% of departmental targets.”

Hope for a surprise
A respected energy expert who has not worked directly with Matona expressed concern about his ­perceived lack of managerial ­experience of a large, complex ­organisation: “Eskom employs 47?000 people and has an annual revenue of R140-billion. I would have thought a basic requirement would have been a chief financial officer with experience managing a large corporate entity.

“I can’t see someone who ran a ­government department having the necessary experience to run Eskom. You needed someone with very sharp private sector experience,” the energy expert said.

But he added: “Maybe Matona will surprise us. There are parallels here with Maria Ramos, who went from director general in the treasury to running Transnet very successfully.”

Announcing Matona’s appointment, Brown said that he would continue work he had started at the department: “Mr Matona has been closely involved in providing oversight to Eskom and the other ­state-owned companies in the department’s portfolio for the past three years.

“In recent months he has played a key role in the interdepartmental task team comprising of the departments of public enterprises, energy and national treasury, which have been working with Eskom … to formulate a solution to the immediate challenges facing Eskom.”

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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