Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has defended resigned Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter, who has been criticised for failing to prevent load-shedding.
During an urgent media briefing by Eskom, Gordhan said it was unjustifiable for critics to blame De Ruyter for not being able to fix the already ailing utility.
Addressing Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s accusation that De Ruyter and Eskom management were “actively agitating for the overthrow of the state”, Gordhan said: “In relation to the overthrow of the state and [whether De Ruyter is a] traitor, the emphatic answer is ‘no’. I am not going to qualify it in any way.
“Whatever commentary one might have about an individual, it is absolutely unfair and uncalled for to use that kind of language for somebody who tried their best to get Eskom out of the mess it is in.”
He added that the more knowledgeable people know that the problems at Eskom did not start in 2019.
“It started a long time ago and there is a long list of people who must be held responsible for decisions they did not make in the right way,” Gordhan said.
During the briefing session, De Ruyter said he no longer regarded his position as tenable.
Mantashe provokes de Ruyter
Last week Mantashe launched a scathing attack on Eskom and De Ruyter, accusing the utility of “actively agitating for the overthrow of the state” by allowing load-shedding to continue.
This is despite Mantashe’s failure to ensure additional power in the interim by delaying signing Independent Power Producer agreements.
De Ruyter resigned on Wednesday during a period of crippling load-shedding. The chief executive has been under tremendous pressure in recent months. Among those calling for his head are Mantashe and the Black Business Council.
De Ruyter served for almost three years, and will remain in the job until the end of March while the board, led by Mpho Makwana, looks for a new Eskom leader.
Mantashe has publicly criticised De Ruyter on several occasions, which many feared would push the country into more trouble.
When De Ruyter took over the hot seat, Eskom’s debt was more than R440 billion, had a loss of R21 billion and suffered a R50 billion cash-flow shortage.
The energy availability factor of its aged coal fleet — run hard by predecessors — had also declined to 67% from 70% the previous year, and corruption had seeped into every facet of the company. The energy availability factor (EAF) is currently below 59%.
The utility has also been fighting ongoing sabotage, which has increased the depth of load-shedding.
De Ruyter was the ninth chief executive (including those in an acting capacity) since the departure of Brian Dames in March 2014, making him the longest-serving Eskom boss over the past 10 years.
Gordhan said it was unfortunate that De Ruyter was leaving because he has brought a positive change to the utility.
“Today is an important milestone in Eskom, but not a positive one, with Andre leaving. He has made a remarkable difference and, as he points out, much more needs to be done to turn Eskom around,” Gordhan said.
De Ruyter admits to failure
De Ruyter admitted that he was disappointed that he could not achieve all the objectives he had set for himself.
He blamed the operational and financial difficulties, “challenges surrounding societal matters — crime and corruption — [and] delivering the unbundling of Eskom”.
“With that said, as the chairman said, I am in a position [where] I am also dependent on the support of the broader political economy and that is critical to enabling the success of Eskom.”
Eskom’s chairperson, Mpho Makwana, said the board enjoyed working with De Ruyter, and found him to be “professional and collegial”.
Makwana confirmed that he had accepted De Ruyter’s resignation when it was handed to him during a pre-schedule meeting on 12 December.
He added that the board would “work tirelessly to ensure that we secure the next leader of Eskom”.