Zola Tsotsi has stepped down as both Eskom board chairperson and the power utility’s director.
This followed a three-hour board meeting that took place on Monday night, where Tsotsi made a presentation to the Eskom board to put off a planned motion of no confidence against him.
Former SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane is now acting chairperson.
In a statement issued after midnight, the Eskom board – through Ngubane – praised and thanked Tsotsi for what it called “the selfless decision he has taken in placing the interests of the company and the nation first”.
A source close to the Eskom board told the Mail & Guardian that “the board offered him [Tsotsi] an olive branch after listening to his presentation and he agreed to an amicable parting of ways”.
Tsotsi’s fellow board members tabled a motion of no confidence against him after accusing him of interfering with the executive and signing off certain documents on behalf of Eskom, thereby undermining the chief executive and other executive directors. But the Eskom source told the M&G that in his presentation, Tsotsi refuted all allegations “with facts” that convinced the board to let him off easily.
Ngubane said the board and Tsotsi held “a constructive discussion about charting a way forward for the power utility”. According to the Eskom statement, Tsotsi said his decision to step down was in the interest of the utility and the nation and that it was meant to allow the board to focus on the core issues facing the state-owned company.
“This step, the board believes, will ensure that the power utility can focus on the challenges facing it and sets the utility on a new path to regain the confidence of all stakeholders concerned in ensuring the important work of meeting the energy needs of the country,” read the Eskom board statement. The Eskom board source said Tsotsi’s decision to step down was “good for Eskom. You cannot preside over people who no longer trust you,” the source said.
Though the Eskom board statement was conciliatory, it became clear on Monday afternoon that Tsotsi no longer had many friends to rely on for support. President Jacob Zuma issued a statement distancing himself from Tsotsi’s remarks that he had the president’s backing when he decided to set up an inquiry to investigate what he called the “rot” at Eskom. Zuma, through his spokesperson Mac Maharaj, said there were “clear channels of communication between state owned companies and government, and that is through the shareholder, and in the case of Eskom that is the minister of public Enterprises, Ms Lynne Brown”.
Zuma denied that his conversation with Tsotsi was a “directive” to the Eskom board chair. “It is the minister who will decide if a matter needs the attention of the President or not, and will brief him accordingly. Any instructions to the Board will come from the minister if need be, and not the President,” the statement said. Tsotsi told the Mail & Guardian last week that after he had shared with Zuma details of the resistance he was facing when he tried to sort out Eskom’s woes “the president was very clear that if I think it is the right thing to do, then I must do it”.
Tsotsi led the Eskom board since 2011, a period during which the power utility’s situation worsened, and where it was relegated into a “junk” credit status. Last month the board suspended chief executive officer Tshediso Matona together with finance director Tsholofelo Molefe, commercial and technical head Matshela Koko and chief of capital projects Dan Marokane. At the time the board said the four were suspended in order to create space for an independent probe into Eskom’s poor state of operational and financial affairs.