/ 24 February 2023

Khaya Koko: Pravin Gordhan is Joshua Doore

Pravin Gordhan 0981 Dv(3)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Reclining on his seat while listening to the State of the Nation address (Sona), Pravin “Joshua Doore” Gordhan smirked when our uncle in the load-shedding business realised, despite his many failings, he would still be entrusted with overseeing Eskom.   

“Why refer to him as Joshua Doore?” I hear you ask.

Well, in November 2018, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ deputy president Floyd Shivambu, a senior leader of a party that has continued advocating for Gordhan’s removal and labelled him the “dog of white monopoly capital”, ridiculed Gordhan by likening him to the “uncle” in the logo of furniture retailer, Joshua Doore. 

I had this image when President Cyril Ramaphosa – while delivering the Sona this month and announcing that he would be appointing a minister of no electricity – said the new ministry would not usurp the oversight role played by the public enterprises portfolio, which, believe or not, Gordhan is still at the helm of. 

“So as to remove any confusion, the minister of public enterprises will remain the shareholder representative of Eskom, and steer the restructuring of Eskom, and ensure the establishment of the [new Eskom] transmission company; oversee the implementation of the just energy programme, and oversee the establishment of the SOE [state-owned enterprises] holding company,” the cupcake-in-chief declared.

At that very moment, the SABC news cameras broadcasting Ramaphosa’s speech to the country panned towards Gordhan, who mustered a wry smile that, had he moved his right pinky finger to the edge of his mouth, would have resembled the Dr Evil fictional character portrayed by Canadian actor Mike Myers in the comedy movie series, Austin Powers

I posit that Gordhan’s sardonic smile had to do with the realisation that – although he has performed poorly in improving pitiful parastatals, including power utility Eskom that has plunged the country into darkness – he would still play a part in presiding over South Africa’s SOEs with no accountability for his failures. 

Last month, Business Day reported that logistics parastatal Transnet, which exported a high of 76 million tonnes of coal from its Richards Bay terminal in KwaZulu-Natal in 2017, had recorded its worst coal exports since 1993 by shipping out a paltry 51 million tonnes in 2022. 

With Eskom, the once mighty power utility, which electrified South Africa from 58.2% households in 1996 to 84.2% in 2016, can barely keep lights on, condemning the country to upwards of 10 hours a day of blackouts. 

Yes, much of Eskom’s woes have to do with the late investment in additional energy capacity to the country’s grid, and the Mail & Guardian has tracked the SOE’s 25-year downward spiral to being a dim incarnation of its former self.   

Growing up in the Gauteng township of Katlehong during the 1990s, we had a joke to insult each other as friends when one had done something foolish, using the might of Eskom to drive home the punchline. 

“Uchomela iEskom nge khandlela,” we would say. 

That is, “You’re so dumb, you went into a power fight with Eskom armed with nothing but a candle.” 

These days, you would have better luck in outshining Eskom with the cylindrical block of wax, such has been the utility’s decline. 

But, after a two-year respite (2016 to 2018) from the rolling blackouts that have been a feature since 2007, Gordhan arrived at public enterprises and reversed those green shoots. 

All the minister has done to lift the cloud of darkness lingering over the country has been to blame “state capture”, while complaining about the “resilience” he said he needed to garner since being appointed to oversee public enterprises, in a recent M&G interview

The constant Eskom corruption has been well-established, and there was a whole state capture commission, chaired by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, which highlighted the incessant graft at the SOE. 

It must be nice, then, to be Gordhan – just mention state capture at every turn to avoid being accountable for the energy crisis. 

André de Ruyter, who borrowed from Gordhan’s tactics by also excusing his failings by pointing at “ANC corruption”, unceremoniously quit this week as Eskom chief executive after more than two years of sipping on the poisoned chalice that is the power utility. 

Kudos to the bright spark that thought hiring a suit, who had depreciated a packaging firm’s market value from R29 billion to R5 billion during his five-year tenure, would be the right person to lead a struggling energy company. 

It’s anyone’s guess who De Ruyter’s successor will be. 

What is clear, however, is that whoever takes up the Eskom chief executive position will find an uncle sitting on his leather Gomma Gomma couch, smirking at the prospect of zero accountability.