Eskom in 'safe hands' with Mabuza in the hot seat, says analyst

Embattled state power utility Eskom will be temporarily led by Jabu Mabuza, its chairman, who will take over the roles of interim executive chairman and acting chief executive officer starting from next month.

The interim appointment comes after Phakamani Hadebe announced that he would step down as CEO at the end of July because his health was suffering due to the “unimaginable demands” of the job. He will become the 10th person to vacate the post in as many years.

Mabuza is a “safe pair of hands” and his appointment is a positive development, according to Raymond Parsons, a professor at North-West University’s Business School in Potchefstroom, west of Johannesburg.

“Under normal conditions combining the two posts is not ideal, given oversight concerns,” Parsons said. “But having the same person in two usually distinctively and separate roles at Eskom is clearly only a temporary arrangement and could be accepted in Eskom’s present unusual circumstances.”

The government and Eskom have been under pressure to install executives at Eskom who are capable of transforming the loss-making utility from an almost century-old monopoly that generates about 95% of the nation’s electricity into an efficient and sustainable business comprising three units under a state holding company.

Eskom’s board will identify a suitable candidate to take on the permanent CEO role within three months, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said in a statement on Monday. The utility began advertising the post last week and applications are due to close on August 2.

The appointment may raise questions over whether Eskom has a deep enough talent pool from which to draw senior executives, and whether Mabuza has enough time to devote to the job.

Earlier this month he took on a non-executive director role at pay-TV company MultiChoice, adding to his positions as chairman of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Africa board, Sun International Ltd. and the Casino Association of South Africa.

The dire state of Eskom’s finances will be put on display on Tuesday when it is set to post its second consecutive multi billion rand annual loss.

The utility forecast in January that its loss would widen to about R20bn in the year through March, from R2.3bn the year before. But Anton Eberhard, who sits on a government team that’s advising on a rescue plan for Eskom, told a conference in Lisbon last month the shortfall would be at least R25bn.

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