Former Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza may have jumped before he was pushed as sentiment grew in Cabinet that the board might be out of its depth when it came to running the national power utility.
Mabuza resigned on Friday with immediate effect after Deputy President David Mabuza’s bombshell this week, when he said that Eskom had lied to government by saying last month that there would be no possibility of load shedding until the middle of this month.
According to informed sources, the presidency also placed immense pressure on Eskom to issue a statement in which it accepted blame for the broken promise to keep the lights on, at least until tomorrow.
Exactly what took place behind closed doors after that at the power utility is unknown, but the result was that Mabuza submitted his resignation. It is understood that he first presented it to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who would not accept it and seemingly referred Mabuza to President Cyril Ramaphosa directly.
When announcing Mabuza’s resignation to Eskom personnel, the power utility’s new chief executive officer (CEO), André de Ruyter, said the former chairperson “felt compelled to take responsibility for the fact that Eskom was not able to live up to the president’s commitment”.
In contrast, the presidency’s announcement about the resignation only refers to “Eskom’s inability to meet the commitment it made” to the president.
Last month, Ramaphosa cut short a state visit to Egypt when Eskom implemented unprecedented Stage 6 load shedding. On his return, Ramaphosa assured the nation that the lights would remain on during the festive season and until at least January 13.
However, Eskom announced last Saturday that it would implement Stage 2 loading shedding because of “unanticipated conveyor belt failure at Medupi Power Station”. This flew in the face of the president’s assurances.
City Press learnt this week that some Cabinet members had long held the view that new people with the required technical skills and competency to run Eskom, such as engineering skills, ought to be brought in to save the entity.
As a sign of its vote of no confidence in the board, Cabinet had also approved that De Ruyter – who started his new job on Monday – “bring in his own new team at operational and technical advice level”.
This was seen as a way to clip the board’s wings.
Some members of the Mabuza-led Eskom board had also expressed the sentiment that Ramaphosa did not have confidence in their work. These comments and perceptions had apparently riled the president.
So the Cat, as the deputy president is called, “knew that he was at one with Ramaphosa on this issue of Eskom”, said a person in Ramaphosa’s close circle.
The source was referring to the deputy president’s comments on Thursday about Eskom having “misled” the president about the chances of load shedding.
“They had a discussion in December and when this thing happened, the Cat was just gatvol and he spoke publicly,” said the source. “Ramaphosa is more diplomatic in his approach, even when he is not happy.”
On Thursday, the presidency alluded to this viewpoint in Cabinet when spokesperson Khusela Diko said that Ramaphosa was looking at making changes to the Eskom board as part of the implementation of a rescue plan at the power utility.
“The president is wholly seized with the matter at Eskom,” Diko said.
“He is looking at changes that have to be made, also within the board itself, and with regard to the implementation of the Eskom road map that has been launched. So, it is ongoing work.”
At the ANC’s gala dinner in Kimberley in the Northern Cape on Friday night, Ramaphosa said there was no rift between him and his deputy, adding that they were in agreement about Eskom’s situation.
ESKOM WILL BE RESTORED
At the ANC’s 108th birthday rally yesterday, the president reassured citizens that Eskom would be restored to full functionality.
“Those who think privatisation [is going to happen] are wrong. Eskom will be strengthened. Eskom is the largest company in South Africa and it is too big to fail. We will not allow Eskom to fail. We will support it so that it can execute the developmental mandate.”
Ramaphosa said the board and executives must continue to maintain old power stations. “The new ones still have a number of design challenges, and that is why we have load shedding. The economy and the lives of people are affected, so we will support and strengthen the management to move with speed and restore the power stations as the new ones come into play.”
He said his deputy, Mabuza, was leading the war room on Eskom and was working with management and the board, adding: “I have no doubt ... that we will restore Eskom.”
A Cabinet insider said former Eskom chair Mabuza had arrived at the power utility from Telkom with good credentials, “but Telkom had a very good CEO under Sipho Maseko”.
Mabuza was appointed as acting CEO of Eskom following the sudden resignation of then CEO Phakamani Hadebe two months earlier.
Citing reasons for his resignation, Hadebe had said: “It is no secret that this role comes with unimaginable demands, which have unfortunately had a negative impact on my health. In the best interests of Eskom and my family, I have therefore decided to step down.”
The deputy president said the fact that Mabuza served both as board chair and acting CEO was “unfortunate”.
De Ruyter is the 11th CEO of Eskom in the past 10 years. The power utility has faced a slew of financial challenges, resulting in it posting a net loss of R20 billion for the 2018/19 financial year.
Last year, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni tabled a special appropriation bill in Parliament for Eskom to receive R59 billion over two years to enable the power utility to meet its financial obligations.