Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona challenged his suspension in an urgent application in the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, as the power utility announced more blackouts.
“The application is essentially asking this court to set aside the suspension,” his counsel Andrew Redding SC said. He told Judge Benita Witcher that Matona, who was in court, had submitted a complaint to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA). He wanted the suspension set aside so that the CCMA could deal with the fairness of it.
Redding said Matona was suspended on March 11, less than six months after starting on October 6 2014. Presenting the timeline, he said there was to have been a meeting in the last week of February at which Matona was to present the chief executive’s report and make a presentation on initiatives. This was part of an attempt to deal with problems in the organisation. Cabinet had already established a “war room” committee, chaired by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, to deal with problems at the power utility.
On February 25, Matona was told the meeting was postponed at the request of Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, who represents Eskom’s shareholder, the government.
The following day, the company secretary was asked to convene an urgent meeting. Attached to the notice of the new meeting was a proposed resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the parastatal’s affairs. Redding said it was not an inquiry into misconduct by any person, nor an inquiry into dishonesty. The meeting went ahead and board chairperson Zola Tsotsi proposed that a resolution for an inquiry be adopted. But, submitted Redding, the board disagreed on the resolution. Tsotsi closed the meeting and said he was going to report to the minister.
On March 10, there was another urgent board meeting. Brown attended that one, although the legal basis for her attendance was not entirely clear, said Redding. At a certain time in the meeting, Matona and other executives were asked to leave. There was some discussion on whether there were listening devices in the boardroom or not. It was not clear if there was an investigation into this. Later, the chairperson told Matona the board had resolved to institute an independent inquiry and Matona was asked to recuse himself as chief executive.
‘Suspension’ not mentioned
Matona asked the chairperson if he was being suspended and whether he should report for work the next day. “He was not saying I must not report for work the next day, and he avoided the word suspension,” said Redding, referring to what Matona was told. Matona had explained that a recusal was different to a suspension. A suspension implied wrongdoing. Matona said the new board had not had time to properly consider the company’s problems. In light of Matona’s refusal to recuse himself, on March 11 he was suspended.
Suspension of four executives
On March 12 Tsotsi said four senior Eskom executives were asked to step aside as the power utility embarked on a fact-finding inquiry. At the time he told reporters: “To ensure that this process is as transparent and uninhibited as possible, the board has also resolved that four of its senior executives, including the chief executive, should step down for the duration of this inquiry.”
Redding said at the time news reports quoted Tsotsi as saying there was no suspicion of wrongdoing against them. The other three are finance director Tsholofelo Molefe, group capital executive Dan Morokane, and commercial and technology executive Matshela Koko. Redding said: “Absent is any statement to Mr Matona that he is guilty of misconduct … or that there is any suggestion that he is guilty of misconduct. Not one statement.”
He said it was fundamental to a fair hearing that a person knew what they were alleged to have done. “But they didn’t do that.” Redding said on Wednesday between 6pm and 11pm “remarkably the notice of suspension appears to have been typed up … and signed … It is the fastest that Eskom has worked in many, many years”.
He was given no time to deal with the representations and was in fact “confused”. He was not given the relevant information on what he was supposed to have done. – Sapa