Inside Megawatt Park

2009-11-07 13:44

BEING at the Eskom head office at Megawatt Park in Sunninghill, ­Johannesburg, on Friday was like being in a blackout zone trying to find the nearest candle.

It was 24 hours since the staff had been told by Eskom chairperson Bobby Godsell that Jacob Maroga, the chief executive, had resigned. Then the ANC Youth League insisted he had not resigned.

The issue was politicised and ­racialised as a chain reaction of denials, allegations of racism and an anti-transformation agenda followed. “We are working as normal but we are not very productive. There is a lot of unease as we have not heard anything else since the Thursday announcement,” said a senior manager.

He said scores of employees were holding meetings in small corners to digest the developments.

He said the internet connection was slow as many people were searching for new information and insights on the web.

“We don’t know why Maroga is leaving, but a lot of us black employees are relieved. Under his watch transformation was set back by a number of years,” he said.

Maroga’s detractors point to the number of senior black executives who left during his tenure, including former generation MD Ehud Matya, former finance director Bongani Nqwababa, former corporate MD Duncan Mbonyana, former human resources MD Mpho Letlape, former project 2010 MD Johnny Dladla and, recently, former spokesperson Fani Zulu. The detractors also lamented the lack of advancement of black executives at Eskom.

Some employees were concerned about the way the board went about announcing its decision.

“The board has embarrassed Maroga. They have not even announced a person who is going to act in his absence,” said the manager.

Staff realised that Maroga’s hand may have been forced when Godsell told them the board would respect legal and human resources processes at the announcement.

“Why would there be legal concerns if someone resigns?” asked the employee.

Maroga was not at his office on Friday, but it was not clear whether his absence was planned or was as a result of Thursday’s developments.

Jerry Vilakazi, president of Business Unity SA, said companies were concerned about the potential power disruptions that could occur as a result of low staff morale.

“We sympathise with Eskom employees, but the government needs to come in and act decisively on this matter. The uncertainty at Eskom cannot be allowed to continue for much longer because any paralysis at Eskom poses a risk to the economy,” he said.

Maroga is in a difficult situation. He appears to have more support from people outside the organisation than within.

The youth formations of the ANC and the SA Communist Party have come out in his support. So has the Black Management Forum.

An ANC source in Parliament said it was unlikely that Maroga’s contract would have been extended when it expired in March.

“If Maroga resigns he will be better off because Eskom will have to pay him out,” said the source.

The process that led to the appointment of Maroga in 2007 took eight months. This week’s developments suggest that Eskom might be leaderless for a long time.

If that happens it will join the ranks of Transnet, South African Airways and the SABC as large state companies run by temporary leaders.

Sanlam economist Jac Laubscher said the upheaval at Eskom was not likely to affect its ability to raise funds from the financial markets.

“Investors look at the financial performance of a parastatal and government guarantees. Debt repayments are not a function of what is happening at management level,” he said, adding that government’s continued guarantees would allow Eskom to issue more bonds.

Laubscher said investors could view the developments at Eskom positively.

“It may be that the board has identified some management deficiencies and are now correcting that.”

Duma Gqubule, director at Kio Advisory Services, said Eskom had an opportunity to start afresh. “Eskom needs a chief executive from outside. Anyone from inside is compromised,” he said.

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