/ 22 May 2017

Now Eskom’s Molefe was on ‘unpaid leave’

Brian Molefe’s return as Eskom’s chief is making for more odd bedfellows and division as the South African political wonderland gets weirder.
Brian Molefe’s return as Eskom’s chief is making for more odd bedfellows and division as the South African political wonderland gets weirder.

Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe never resigned from the company, both he and Public Enterprises Minister Lynn Brown agree in new affidavits. Instead, under a new agreement, he is now formally considered to have been on “unpaid leave” during the period he served as a member of Parliament.

But in a set of sworn statements notable for huge holes in the timeline, Molefe and Brown don’t quite manage to agree on why Molefe returned to Eskom, after never officially leaving it.

The two on Monday each filed lengthy affidavits in a high court application by the Democratic Alliance that ultimately seeks Molefe’s removal from the post of chief executive.

As he had never legally left Eskom’s employ, Molefe says, he had been “legally obliged to continue in my employment”. Yet elsewhere he also holds that the Eskom board had asked him to return because he was needed. 

“It was explained to me that Eskom wanted me to return because of a concern about stabilising leadership and to address operational issues that it was facing,” Molefe says of what he describes as an approach from the electricity company “in late April”.

Brown, on the other hand, says that she called a meeting with exactly the people who later “approached” Molefe, after she read in the Sunday Times that he was to be paid R30-million. She expressed her unhappiness with this, Brown says, and asked the board to make a plan. The plan they made happened to be reinstating Molefe.

So, in terms of an May 11 “reinstatement agreement” provided by Molefe, Eskom’s board “elected to rescind” an agreement to let Molefe go. But that too appears to be not entirely uncontroversial. “The correct position is that my original contract of employment did not come to an end,” Molefe says in his affidavit.

What neither Molefe nor Brown make any attempt whatsoever to explain is the lie – at least by omission and failure to correct – that Molefe had resigned from Eskom in November.

When she announced that resignation to the public, Brown says in her affidavit, she was telling the truth as she knew it. “I was under the impression that this was a case of unilateral resignation and nothing more.”

According to Brown’s telling, it took five months for her to learn that Molefe had, in fact, applied for early retirement. The Eskom board did not tell her that, she says, not even when in March she asked for a formal company resolution recording what believed to have been a resignation.

Brown does not say how she reacted when she learned she had been kept in the dark and publicly humiliated in the process. She does, however, explain that she was concerned about being fair to Molefe, and had hoped for a solution that would “ameliorate Mr Molefe’s financial prejudice and any costly litigation” that would come about when Eskom refused to honour his early-retirement payout.

In a 22-page affidavit, Molefe too is silent on why he told the nation he was resigning when he was, in fact, taking early retirement, why he did not seek to correct Brown when she said otherwise and how the confusion never came up.

Molefe does offer that the supposed R30-million “golden handshake” he was to receive, as first reported by the Sunday Times in April, is “not correct”. He had only been due pension benefits that he and Eskom thought he was entitled to, a mistaken impression created because neither party had properly read Eskom’s pension rules.

Molefe provides a range of documents to back up his assertions. One shows that he has now returned to an annual salary of R7.7-million. Another shows that his “early retirement” that never was had entitled him to a lump-sum payout of R9.8-million, plus R1.3-million per year for life.

Assuming he had received the payout and lived to age 63 (when Eskom would normally expect retirement) Molefe’s total take would have been R27.2-million, not counting his salary during the 18 months he had been in the job.