Molefe saga hastens the split in ANC

Brian Molefe’s return as Eskom’s chief is making for more odd bedfellows and division as the South African political wonderland gets weirder. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Brian Molefe’s return as Eskom’s chief is making for more odd bedfellows and division as the South African political wonderland gets weirder. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The controversial reappointment of Brian Molefe as Eskom chief executive is causing further divisions in the top echelons of the ANC. The topic is likely to dominate discussions at the party’s national executive (NEC) meeting this week.

The decision by the Eskom board, endorsed by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, to reappoint Molefe has also divided the Cabinet, with supporters of President Jacob Zuma in favour of it and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s backers opposed to it.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and the party’s spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, said the party has directed Brown to reverse the decision. But Brown, Molefe and Eskom are prepared to put up a fight. The three filed notices to oppose the Democratic Alliance’s court application to interdict Molefe’s appointment.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema said his party intends to join the DA’s application, due to be heard in the high court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The EFF wants the court to dissolve the Eskom board for acting irrationally in its decision to reappoint Molefe. It will also argue that Brown should not have concurred with the board’s decision.

Malema said his party would include in its court application ­revelations made by former ­minerals minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi that Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane and Molefe tried to get him to suspend Glencore mining licences. This was ostensibly to put pressure on the commodities firm to sell the coal mine to the Gupta family-owned company, Tegeta Exploration and Resources.

Kodwa said the Molefe saga would be tabled at next week’s NEC meeting as part of the national working committee report.

The decision to reappoint Molefe was never discussed at the ANC’s deployment committee, headed by Ramaphosa, he said.

Even if Molefe, Brown and Eskom opposed the DA’s application, he believed it could only serve to damage the ruling party. “It is fine if they want to oppose. Let the government lose this [case] in court. It’s bad for the ANC,” said Kodwa.

He said he could not rule out the possibility of those interviewed for the position of Eskom chief executive (after a weeping Molefe left it) approaching the court to litigate against the power utility.

“If one of the applicants takes [the matter] to court, we can’t do anything,” said Kodwa, adding: “We registered our discomfort. The decision was reckless and insensitive.”

Brown’s spokesperson Colin Cruywagen said: “Her meeting with ANC officials resolved that government takes responsibility for managing the matter. A process is under way to consider available options.”

ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana saidthe decision to reappoint Molefe showed blatant disregard for the issues raised in the State of Capture report, which found the Eskom chief was in contact with the Guptas during the time of the sale of Optimum mine.

“[The public protector’s report] might not be conclusive in its findings but it questioned his integrity to run the institution,” he said.

The Fitch ratings agency, which downgraded South Africa to junk status last month, had raised concerns about Molefe’s reappointment when it spoke to the ANC this week, said Godongwana. “If you look at the decision to downgrade, they referred to guarantees given to state-owned agencies as contingent liabilities.”

When it downgraded South Africa’s credit rating, Fitch said the recent Cabinet reshuffle would undermine, “if not reverse”, progress in the governance of state-owned enterprises and raise the risk that SOE debt would migrate to government’s balance sheet.

S&P Global said in the reasons for its downgrade that plans to improve the underlying financial position of Eskom “may not be implemented in a comprehensive and timely manner” after the reshuffle.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba apparently met Brown and expressed concerns about the effect Molefe’s reappointment would have on the government. “He told her that the decision raised a red flag around government and that it was making his job in trying to convince the rating agencies that Eskom was adhering to good governance difficult,” said a senior government official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Kodwa said the ANC would never be dictated to by its deployees.

“The strategic centre must remain the ANC. The ANC must not be taken for granted. That’s why we condemned the decision by the Northern Cape premier to reshuffle her Cabinet without consulting the ANC. Our deployees must not use their deployment to deepen divisions in the ANC,” said Kodwa.

An NEC member, who also did not want to be named, said: “The issue is about the divided organisation at the top leadership level, where certain leaders see the opportunity to advance their interests.”

He questioned why, if the top six rejected plans to appoint Molefe as finance minister, some would want him to be reappointed at Eskom. — Additional reporting by Lynley Donnelly and Given Sigauqwe

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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