Eskom's De Ruyter must either toe government’s line or ours - NUM

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Andre de Ruyter, the CEO of Nampak, has been appointed the new head of Eskom (Image: Nampak website)
Andre de Ruyter, the CEO of Nampak, has been appointed the new head of Eskom (Image: Nampak website)

The National Union of Mineworkers has issued an ultimatum to incoming Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, saying that if he plans to institute government's planned reorganisation at the struggling power utility it would fight him at every turn.

This comes after Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, announced on Tuesday that Cabinet had directed Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan to discuss with De Ruyter starting his duties before his commencement date of January 15, 2020.

De Ruyter, the former head of Nampak, was announced as the beleaguered power utility's new CEO in mid-November. He is set to take over from interim CEO and Chairperson Jabu Mabuza, who took over the acting CEO role when Phakamani Hadebe resigned in late July 2019 citing 'unimaginable demands' impacting his health.

NUM - one of three major unions at the electricity provider together with National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Solidarity - earlier said it would stage a demonstration on De Ruyter's first day in January, and submit a memorandum of demands to his office to demand that the unbundling of Eskom into three entities be stopped immediately.

The union's energy sector coordinator, Paris Mashego, told Fin24 on Wednesday that NUM's plans to march to De Ruyter's office on January 15 remained in place and the union's fundamental demands had not changed.

"De Ruyter was given a program by government to implement that relates to breaking down [Eskom]. NUM will give him its own program about saving Eskom," said Mashego.

Mashego said the union was prepared to work with the incomig CEO to turn things around Eskom, so long as he aligned himself with the union in resisting government's efforts to split Eskom into separate entities.

"It is an instruction. If he follows it, he will have our support. We don't think an early arrival will change the challenges faced by Eskom. It will actually push forward the program of unbundling Eskom.

"We want something to be recorded and known to the public. We want a forensic audit of the R450bn debt that Eskom is owing. But government does not listen to us. We spoke to the president and ministers. The only commitment they made is that they won't retrench workers," Mashego said.

Unbundling 

President Ramaphosa announced the unbundling of Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution operations during his State of the Nation address in February 2019 - saying it was necessary to make the struggling power utility more efficient. The president has repeatedly stressed that unbundling does not equal privatisation, and that all three entities would still fall under a state-owned Eskom holding company.

In late October, meanwhile, Gordhan said that government was hoping to complete the unbundling by December 2022, adding the plan to reform Eskom would unfold in a "slow, systematic and disciplined way". 

Solidarity deputy secretary general of energy and industry, Deon Reyneke, told Fin24 on Wednesday that De Ruyter's appointment, as well as his potential early start, were positive developments which needed support from everyone at Eskom.

"We welcome the request for De Ruyter to come earlier. We need every piece of knowledge and experience we can get to pull Eskom out of trouble," said Reyneke.

Reyneke said Eskom Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer's presence at Eskom would allow De Ruyter as smooth landing, as he would guide the incoming chief regarding his duties upon his arrival.

He said if experts were allowed to help Eskom and if political appointments at the power utility were ended, the state-owned entity had a chance to thrive.

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