/ 12 October 2023

Former Eskom chair Makgoba calls out ‘meddlesome’ Pravin Gordhan

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan wants the court to interdict Mkhwebane and the office of the Public Protector from taking any action to enforce the remedial action.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

“Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordan is a minister with a penchant for interference and, at times, undermines the people he appoints,” according to former Eskom board chairperson, Malegapuru Makgoba.

Makgoba has described his time as Eskom chair as challenging because he had to deal with Gordhan’s penchant for “micromanagement, meddlesome behaviour and undermining the board and executive”. 

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Makgoba said his tenure at Eskom was the “most difficult time” of his life as he constantly had to fight for accountability from others and also had to fight against political interference.

In his role as the chairman of the board, Makgoba worked closely with former CEO André de Ruyter for a period of three years. He was also part of the team that hired De Ruyter.

Makgoba reiterates these sentiments in an extract from his upcoming book, Leadership for Transformation since the Dawn of South Africa’s Democracy.

“Political involvement with Eskom was inevitable. What was worrying to me was the interference and micromanagement of politicians in the system,” he said.

He added that Gordhan regularly ignored the council and spoke directly to the power utility’s management. “This made my work difficult,” he said in the book.

Makgoba’s statements come as Eskom loses yet another board chairperson in the form of Mpho Makwana, who called it quits this week after Gordhan’s alleged political interference at Eskom.

The state-owned enterprise has been without a full-time chief executive for more than seven months, following De Ruyter’s resignation in December last year, with lack of political support being among the reasons he left. 

Makwana served as chairperson for a year.

His resignation follows public clashes with Gordhan over the appointment of a CEO to replace De Ruyter. The Eskom board only submitted one candidate, instead of the required three.

The board recommended Dan Morokane to Gordhan but the recommendation was declined after Gordhan accused the board of flouting the guidelines for the process. 

According to the board, Gordhan allegedly took issue with its decision to exclude people over 60 from the recruitment process. The board said the reason for this was to ensure long-term stability at Eskom, where the retirement age is 65.

Last month, Gordhan wrote to the board urging the directors to consider candidates over 60. 

In their response, the board said it would implement the minister’s suggestion in their second round of candidate searches. “The Board will now also consider candidates that are older than 60,” they said.

Gordhan has dismissed claims of meddling, despite testimony from the board that he had taken four months to respond on its preferred candidate, saying that no appointment could be made because the board had failed to comply with the memorandum of incorporation by not submitting three candidates for the CEO role.

Busisiwe Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership SA, echoed Makgoba’s sentiments and said Gordhan had disempowered state enterprise boards as they are unable to fulfil their mandate.

“Good governance starts with having a  board [that is] able to hold your executive management to account and for them to do that. They need to have the power to appoint and dismiss their CEO, yet in both Eskom and Transnet, as well as other SOEs, the CEO is appointed and dismissed by a minister who can, under the organisation’s memorandum of incorporation, ignore the board in the process.” 

The situation has been exacerbated by state-run logistics company Transnet, which has lost key executives recently.

“The members of the board are seasoned professionals. The minister, at the very least, can and should act in line with the board’s wishes in appointing their CEO,” said Mavuso. 

She added it was not surprising that the Eskom board members would get frustrated over Gordhan’s rejection of their candidate.

“It doesn’t make sense at the moment that the minister would insist on having three names. If the board is saying, there’s only one [suitable] candidate, him insisting that they get three names is undermining their competence,” she said.

Gordhan’s spokesperson, Ellis Mnyandu, in a response on Thursday, said despite claims by the former board members, there was no proof to substantiate the accusations that he meddled in Eskom’s affairs.

“There has been no interference in the process of fielding a group CEO in this process. The Eskom board failed to follow the rules of the memorandum of incorporation. This did not provide enough information for the minister to compare which candidate was better suited. That is no meddling, it is following processes,” said Mnyandu.

Cosatu spokesperson Matthew Parks said the union was concerned that Eskom still did not have a permanent CEO.

He added that  when the utility finally appoints a CEO, the new leader must be given the government’s full support to tackle corruption, wasteful expenditure, criminality, vandalism and cable theft as well as support to ramp up maintenance and bring on board new generation capacity. 

But a senior ANC leader, who did not want to be named, said the fallout between the minister and his SOE departments showed that Gordhan was failing to lead his portfolio, which would be discussed at this weekend’s national executive committee meeting.

“Both Eskom and Transnet are in shambles, and they are all singing the same song — it can’t be a coincidence. It is therefore a good thing that we have considered closing down this department after next year’s general election, which is something we will speak about this weekend,” the leader said.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said Makwana’s resignation as Eskom chair reminded him of mice fleeing methane. 

“If you are underground and see mice running … you just follow them. Because when they run, half the time, they are smelling methane. To save yourself, you just follow them. When there is an exodus of executives at institutions, there should be a kind of methane we investigate.

“It is concerning to have several executives [at Eskom] running like mice, running from methane in a short space of time … what is the methane they are running from? It has developed over the last week. When the cabinet meets, they will talk about it,” he said.

When contacted, Makwana said he adhered to the public statement and that he and Gordhan had parted amicably.