Zola Tsotsi’s showdown with the Eskom board on Monday night ended with a whimper, not a bang.
The meeting was held to give the Eskom chairperson the opportunity to explain why he should not be suspended.
Details of the allegations against Tsotsi remain sketchy, but are believed to centre on him exceeding his powers as a nonexecutive chair.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the meeting, Tsotsi gave a presentation to the board and then offered to resign “in the interests of unity”.
Tsotsi and his legal representative were then asked to leave, after which the board agreed to accept Tsotsi’s explanations for his conduct as well as his resignation.
“[Tsotsi] told them [the board] that if it’s in the interest of the country and ‘you guys tell me you’ll focus on putting Eskom right’, he’ll step aside. And the board grabbed that opportunity. They deliberated, they came back and said: ‘You’ve done a good service but we’ve lost confidence in you, basically,'” one of the sources recounted.
Tsotsi’s board term was up for review in June, which means that he only had three more months in the hot seat.
According to the other source with knowledge of the meeting: “He [Tsotsi] said he doesn’t want to have an abrupt departure that will disrupt things, neither does he want to stay longer than necessary.
“So he asked to leave the Eskom building on March 31, but he will be available to help when they need him until the end of his contract, which is at the end of June.”
Not entitled to severance pay
Both sources claimed that Tsotsi has made no demands for a severance package, and a third source with knowledge of corporate governance at state-owned enterprises said that nonexecutive board members are not entitled to severance pay.
One of the sources – who is sympathetic to Tsotsi – suggested that the board would consider recommending to Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown that Tsotsi be paid for the remaining three months of his board term.
Based on Eskom’s 2013-2014 annual report, Tsotsi earned R1.79-million as chair that financial year. Adjusted upwards to an estimated R2-million for the 2014-2015 financial year, Tsotsi’s last three months at the utility could be worth about R500 000.
A fourth source, who works in government, said that “if he played his cards right” Tsotsi might also be “redeployed” to another board position in the parastatal sector.
“It’s the minister who has appointed him and it’s the minister who will receive his resignation and decide what to offer him,” said one of the sources.
The board was due to present its resolutions from the Monday meeting to the minister for her approval on Wednesday. Brown is also expected to confirm the appointment of board member Ben Ngubane as interim Eskom chair while she consults with stakeholders about the appointment of a permanent chair.
Business Day reported that Ngubane was President Jacob Zuma’s favoured candidate for the position late last year, when the composition of a new board was under consideration.
Ngubane was premier of KwaZulu-Natal when Zuma was a member of the province’s executive council for economic development and tourism. Ngubane’s daughter, Nokuthula, is chief executive of the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust.
The ANC’s deployment committee is said to have opposed Zuma’s nomination in favour of Pathmanathan “Pat” Naidoo, an Eskom electrical engineer. Tsotsi was retained as a “compromise”; both Ngubane and Naidoo were appointed to the new board and are likely to be reconsidered following Tsotsi’s departure.
‘Gossip and stories’
Ngubane dismissed claims this week about his closeness to Zuma as “gossip and stories” and Naidoo said he was “surprised” to hear he was ever considered as chair.
Meanwhile, it appears Tsotsi’s departure will not derail the three-month forensic inquiry into Eskom and the temporary suspension of four of its senior executives, including chief executive Tshediso Matona.
Tsotsi was seen as a primary driver behind the inquiry and suspensions, and told amaBhungane last week that he had been championing an inquiry for at least a year.
Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said: “Remember, it was a board decision to pursue an inquiry, not Mr Tsotsi’s alone. On that basis, we must assume the inquiry and suspensions continue, unless the board now indicates otherwise.”
The chairperson of the board subcommittee responsible for setting up the inquiry, Chwayita Mabude, declined to comment directly but said she would brief Phasiwe.
Phasiwe later confirmed that Mabude’s subcommittee has now finalised the inquiry’s terms of reference and will “confirm the appointment of the companies involved within a day or so”.