/ 14 October 2023

Mbalula defends former Eskom chair after claims of Gordhan meddling  

Fikile Mbalula (1)
ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula. Photo: Luba Lesolle/Gallo Images

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula has defended former Eskom board chairperson Malegapuru Makgoba’s character following his claims that Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan interfered with the board during his tenure. 

Mbalula said that professionals appointed at boards of state-owned entities had the right to challenge meddlesome ministers with the protection of the law, adding that board members should speak out while holding their respective positions. 

“Professionals that are appointed to these boards must know their rights while they are still there,” Mbalula said. “When you complain when you have left, [people] think you are behaving like a jilted lover. While it was nice you didn’t see the wrong things.  

“Prof[Makgoba]is a respected South African. If he said those things while he was there, it would empower us to know that our minister is mismanaging things but it does not mean that those things can be ignored.”  

“Prof is a good person. He wouldn’t just say things but it’s always advisable that when you are appointed at a position of responsibility you say it then and there are rules in which you can even challenge the person who appointed you. You are not appointed as a stooge, you are appointed because of certain qualities.” 

Makgoba had earlier 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”.

He said his tenure at Eskom was the “most difficult time” of his life as he constantly had to fight for accountability from others while fighting against political interference.

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

Eskom has again been plunged into a state of governance instability following the resignation of its current board chairperson Mpho Makwana.

Eskom board members who had previously spoken on condition of anonymity told the Mail & Guardian about a rift between Makwana and Gordhan. The board members said Gordhan consistently questioned Makwana’s decisions in the hunt for a new chief executive. 

“Sometimes there is a dynamic interface between the board and the ministers and in shaping up the SOE’s we need to deal with these particular matters. I don’t know what minister Pravin will say and respond because it’s not one sided… We have just come from state capture. What has he done that made the Prof to just explode? The biggest complaint was also ostracising of black people.” 

In the lead up to the ANC’s elective conference last year, party leaders were said to have been frustrated with the lack of transformation at the power utility. 

Mbalula said that while there are ministers who “like to take chances with their powers using them to manipulate processes, others have good intentions to accelerate and deepen transformation”. 

“People get into boards and they simply collect cheques they forget the mandate they are chasing,” Mbalula continued. “There is nothing in law that says the minister cannot interface with the board about addressing issues and also in terms of a shareholder that is the expectation. In terms of the boards, the shareholder has got a shareholders agreement with the board and that states [that] in line with the mandate of the ruling party and the manifesto, these are the things that we want to achieve.”

Mbalula took aim at Eskom saying the power utility had achieved “zilch” of the party’s promise to South Africans. 

“It has actually plunged us into a crisis of self defence [with] everyday load shedding, mismanagement running down the entity,” Mbalula said, adding that under De Ruyter the project of load-shedding was accelerated.