/ 23 February 2023

UPDATE: What next for Eskom as De Ruyter immediately released from duties

Mpho Eskom Getty
Eskom board chairperson Mpho Makwana. Photo: Getty Images

Reliable sources on the Eskom board have told the Mail & Guardian that the current chief financial officer Calib Cassim is the leading candidate to lead the utility after the exit of former chief executive Andre de Ruyter.

Eskom has previously denied that chairperson Mpho Makwana would take over the recently vacant chief executive position. 

On Thursday a source said after a day of deliberations Makwana had not accepted the role of interim CEO, and therefore the role automatically fell to Cassim.

This comes after De Ruyter was immediately released from his duties following an explosive interview with eNCA’s Annika Larsen on Tuesday, where he fingered officials in the African National Congress as responsible for crippling issues at the power utility.

“My rough estimate of the amount of money that gets stolen in Eskom every month is in the region of R1 billion, every month,’’ De Ruyter said.

He added that he had contacted a minister after COP27, saying that he was concerned about the $8.5 billion that was being pledged by some European countries and the US.

De Ruyter said Eskom approached a high-level minister about the corruption concerns related to the COP27 $8.5 billion.

“When we pointed out that there was one particular high-level politician that was involved in this, the minister in question looked at the senior official and said, ‘I guess it was inevitable that this would come out anyway’. Which suggests that this wasn’t news (to them),” he said.

De Ruyter described what the minister had said: “The response was, essentially, you have to be pragmatic, in order to pursue the greater good, you have to enable some people to eat a little bit.”

His actions angered Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan who attacked him for “meddling” in politics instead of focusing on ending load-shedding. Gordhan was speaking at parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday in the wake of the interview the day before.

“Chief executives of entities such as Eskom should not be involved in open political debates or assertions, and if they have political views, that is their private business and they are welcome to express those views privately,” Gordhan said.

De Ruyter resigned from the struggling parastatal in December, after three years at the helm. His notice period was three months and the last day was set to be 31 March 2023.

This comes at a time when the utility has plunged the country into stage six load-shedding which has left the country in darkness for over six hours a day and in some cases more than nine hours a day.

On Tuesday, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha in a tweet said the utility cut 7 045 megawatts from the grid — a move to prevent a total shutdown of the national grid, which translates to stage seven load-shedding. The utility effectively put the country in stage seven load-shedding without openly saying so.

Mantshantsha told the M&G that the utility was in the process of looking for an acting chief executive in the meantime. 

“The Eskom board, together with the minister of public enterprises, who is the shareholder representative, will agree on the appointment of the acting chief executive, and Eskom will announce that as soon as possible,” he said.

But, sources within the utility told the M&G that Makwana had been the desired candidate since De Ruyter resigned in December. But he chose not to take up the mantle meaning Cassim would be next in line.

“The beauty of the state of disaster is that the utility can bypass the rules including the PFMA [Public Financial Management Act] of hiring because we are in a crisis. So any hiring involved in the state of disaster cannot be challenged because it was a decision taken to resolve the crisis. Makwana has been ready to take over the position since December,” an Eskom source said.

Another source added that the search for a new chief executive had paused because of the state of disaster as they were waiting on President Cyril Ramaphosa to shuffle his cabinet to be sure who will take over from Gordhan.

“The process for the search for the chief executive has stopped. There are concerns that the new leadership that comes up needs to align with the minister that will be taking over from Gordhan. There is a need for someone qualified but also we need someone who can have a [good] relationship with the minister so things can flow better,” the source said.

Another source in Eskom’s management said this pushed Ramaphosa to name the minister of electricity to take over the post “as an urgent step”.

Ramaphosa announced during his state of the nation address earlier this month that a new electricity minister position would be created in the presidency. The minister would be responsible for managing the government’s response to the country’s failing electricity system.

Sputla Ramokgopa, former mayor of the City of Tshwane has been tipped to be the upcoming minister. 

“Ramokgopa is a great candidate at this time because he can manage to hold on to the chief executive [post] until one is appointed. This means the president needs to hurry now; no more waiting because there is no time,” the board member said.

De Ruyter was removed on the day Eskom received financial relief of R254 billion from Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana. 

Makwana took up the position of chairperson in October last year. If chosen, this would not be Makwana’s first time acting as head of the utility. In 2009, Makwana acted as an Eskom chief executive for seven months after the departure of Jacob Maroga. 

Makwana has promised to bring down the price of electricity, while committing Eskom to dramatically improve the performance of the company’s creaking power stations.

On Thursday, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, said: “The government assures South Africans that there will be no leadership vacuum. The Eskom management team continues with daily operations and work to end load-shedding and secure our energy supply continues in earnest.”

Speaking on the corruption allegation, Gungubele said that De Ruyter knows the president’s stance on corruption.

“I find that, unless he can demonstrate evidence, this is insulting. This president, since he came in, one of the key things was to make sure that the Zondo Commission worked. Zondo gave Eskom all the evidence and that still needs to be followed. He knows that the ANC government is committed to cleaning up the government,” Gungubele said.