Tshediso Matona takes on the toughest job in town

2014-08-24 15:00

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Walking a path well trodden by Maria Ramos and Brian Molefe before him, Tshediso Matona will make the shift from senior civil servant to parastatal CEO next month.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown said on Wednesday that Matona, currently the director-general in her department – a job he has held for three years – would succeed Brian Dames as CEO of Eskom, taking over from acting chief executive officer Collin Matjila on September 1.

He is the first outsider to lead the utility in 10 years, but not the first bureaucrat to lead a parastatal. Ramos was the director-general at Treasury for seven years before joining logistics company Transnet, where she stayed for five years, turning it into a profitable business in the process.

Molefe was the deputy director-general responsible for asset and liability management at Treasury before joining the Public Investment Corporation as chief executive in 2003, so Matona is in good company.

Matona is not speaking to the media until he meets with the Eskom board.

According to an abridged CV provided by the department of public enterprises, he holds a master’s degree in development economics from the UK’s University of East Anglia, and honours degrees in economics and political science from the University of Cape Town (UCT). He also has certificates in executive management and infrastructure development from Harvard University.

Most of his working life was spent in the realm of trade and investment – from his days churning out academic papers for the Trade Policy Monitoring Project as a UCT student to the top post at the department of trade and industry, where he was director-general for five years before leaving for public enterprises.

He will be dealing with a utility in the grips of an acute cash flow crisis that has prompted the formation of an interministerial task team to avert a Standard & Poor’s downgrade to junk status for the utility’s credit rating, which would considerably raise its borrowing costs.

Brown said Matona played a key role in this task team, giving him intimate knowledge of Eskom’s challenges.

Matona will also have to work to stabilise Eskom’s capital position, tackle its maintenance and plant problems, and ensure the first unit of its flagship project, the Medupi power plant in Lephalale, comes on stream on time ­­(see box).

Shaun Nel, spokesperson for the Energy Intensive User Group, which represents large industrial businesses that consume about 44% of the country’s electricity, intimated this was achievable, and said it would work closely with Matona on this.

Industry players hold mixed views on Matona’s appointment.

Anton Eberhard, an energy and infrastructure specialist and a member of the National Planning Commission, tweeted: “Eskom employs 47?000 and has revenues of R140?billion [per year]. I would have thought a new CEO should have experience of managing a large corporation.”

But Nel shied away from questions about Matona’s qualifications.

“The Energy Intensive User Group and its member companies will fully support Mr Matona in his endeavours to restore South Africa’s energy security, and will work closely with him to focus on a number of priorities to achieve this,” he said.

Trade union Solidarity said that although it intended to support Matona, the appointment of a former director-general pointed towards an “attitude”, on the state’s part, of treating Eskom like a government department.

Deon Reyneke, its energy industry head, said Eskom and the energy sector as a whole needed both short- and long-term solutions, adding that the utility needed to include independent power producers in its long-term strategy.


.?Together with the interministerial task team, plug the funding gap and avoid a downgrade to junk status by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, which has placed Eskom on credit watch.

.?Convince the National Energy Regulator to grant tariff increases to Eskom from 2014 to 2017.

.?Cut costs as part of a five-year plan by up to R60?billion.

.?Ensure Medupi’s first boiler comes online by December and is fully operational by the middle of next year, as promised.

.?Reverse diminishing plant availability.

.?Improve maintenance capability and catch up on the maintenance backlog.

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