/ 3 March 2023

Is reticent Ramaphosa ready to reshuffle?

Candles Getty
Like a candle in the wind: Eskom has turned 100 but it’s lights are hardly blazing. Photo: Getty Images


It’s been a century — and a day — since the lights were first turned on at Eskom, our not so beloved power utility.

That’s quite a milestone: a full 85 years of providing electricity to South Africa and helping build the economy of the continent’s most industrialised nation — along with another 15 of doing pretty much the opposite.

Not exactly the kind of performance one would have hoped or paid for to mark 100 years of being in the electricity business, but an outcome which has been in the making since 1998, when the warning bells about Eskom were first rung — and ignored.

Like the majority of my fellow South Africans, I marked the hundredth birthday by lighting candles, not to celebrate, but because Eskom had — once again — failed to do its job and provide us with electricity.

For its birthday, Eskom gave us an 8pm to 10pm dose of load-shedding, along with another two hours and a bit thrown in off the books and for free and no four-nil to Arsenal at home in the league against Everton.

Eskom giveth, Eskom taketh away.

At least I didn’t miss the second coming of Jesus at the Emirates last night — Gabriel will only be back in the side in time for Crystal Palace — but there is still time for the alleged electricity supplier to spoil the moment for us all.

I didn’t buy a 100th present for former Eskom chief executive officer André de Donker, although I had been tempted to get him a power bank or a paraffin lamp to say dankie and totsiens.

De Donker has trundled off to live somewhere with electricity after getting a Don’t Come Monday from the Eskom board and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan hours after his tell-all on the telly, so it would have been a bit of a waste if I did.

Then again De Donker getting the boot and the eventual appointment of a minister of electricity won’t stop load-shedding anytime soon, so the power bank — and the paraffin lamp — will come in handy before things get any better.

The whole De Donker drama is quite a thing.

Gordhan, Cyril Ramaphosa and the rest of the comrades in the cabinet were all happy enough to let De Donker work his notice despite failing to fix Eskom and keep the lights on, but the minute he started pointing fingers at Luthuli House, time was up for the Prince of Darkness.

No lights? No worries.

Stage six load-shedding after three years on the job? No drama.

Blow the whistle? Out the door, André, no further exit interview is required.

Former deputy president David Mabuza must have been watching De Donker’s accelerated departure from Megawatt Park with some level of awe — envy even.

The Cat has been trying to get fired since the new year began, when he first submitted his notice to Ramaphosa, our reluctant reshuffler — although some would say he quietly quit back at the beginning of 2018 and had had an eye on the door — and his balance with the Government Employees Pension Fund — ever since.

Ramaphosa only agreed to release Mabuza on Wednesday — nearly two months later — something of a personal best when it comes to making up his mind for the president, who has been decisive in his indecision since the ANC recalled his predecessor and put him in charge of the country.

The president’s reticence when it comes to reshuffling is frustrating. The whole governing-only-when-cornered thing is becoming rather tired after half a decade of waiting for him to make his mind up. But it’s also understandable.

Ramaphosa’s cabinet has talent like Tottenham’s has trophies. Most of its members have already done more than enough damage to the Republic in the portfolios they already occupy, so I’d also be loath to let any of them loose anywhere else.

Perhaps De Donker’s dramatic departure was what pushed the president over the edge and into the decision to allow Mabuza to leave the deputy presidency in the manner in which he occupied it — silently, invisibly and with no ruckus.

The last thing Ramaphosa needed was Mabuza, the man credited with (among other things) swinging the vote in his favour at Nasrec in 2017, breaking his five-year vow of silence and causing a fuss on his way out the door at the Union Buildings.

One wonders how long it takes the president to decide what to wear in the morning, given his reluctance to hit the button once he gets to the Union Building.

Perhaps somebody takes the decision for him, and Ramaphosa tags along, something like he’s done since February 2018.