There's a CEO crisis in South Africa and no one is stepping up

The history of business is filled with executives coming to the fore during adversity. Think Steve Jobs taking back Apple and turning it into a tech powerhouse, or Alan Mulally steering Ford  out of the late-2000s car-industry recession.

Then there’s South Africa, where an exodus of chief executive officers during an economic downturn is becoming alarming, particularly as there are apparently so few ready replacements. Since October, at least seven CEOs have departed from some of the country’s most powerful institutions, and none have yet been permanently replaced.

The following list may in part explain why business confidence in the country has fallen five months in the last six.

South African Airways - Vuyani Jarana

The former Vodacom executive’s resignation last week came as a surprise, as he had been widely viewed as capable of steering the state airline through to a 2021 break-even target. Jarana cited a lack of financial support from the government, making it impossible for him to be confident of a successful turnaround.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. - Phakamani Hadebe

Hadebe became the 10th CEO to quit the stricken state power utility in as many years, citing the “unimaginable demands” of what is arguably South Africa’s toughest corporate job. There are few obvious candidates to replace him at the electricity provider, which is saddled with almost R500bn billion in debt and was responsible for nationwide blackouts earlier this year.

Old Mutual - Peter Moyo

The 174-year-old insurer suspended Moyo two weeks ago over a conflict of interest involving his investment firm NMT Capital, despite knowing about the link when the 56-year-old was appointed. In response, Moyo insisted he’d done nothing wrong and demanded a full pay out. The terms of his suspension and departure are still being worked out.

Massmart Holdings - Guy Hayward

The Walmart-owned general goods retailer said its CEO will leave before the end of the year amid a torrid trading environment for retailers. The US parent named a Walmart veteran to take over, but Mitchell Slape can only come to South Africa when he has been granted a work permit.

Absa Group - Maria Ramos

South Africa’s third-largest bank said in January that Maria Ramos would retire following a split from former UK parent Barclays Bank. Absa said a replacement should be announced by the Aug. 13 half-year results presentation. South African Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Daniel Mminele is being considered, people familiar with the matter said in February.

Public Investment Corporation - Daniel Matjila

Africa’s biggest fund manager and custodian of South African state-worker pension funds accepted Matjila’s resignation in November following criticism of various investments. The PIC is now the subject of an ongoing commission of inquiry, and has only had acting CEOs since. The whole board of directors offered to resign in February.

Transnet - Siyabonga Gama

The state-owned ports and rail company dismissed its most recent full-time CEO in October after he became embroiled in corruption allegations surrounding the purchase of new locomotives. The company is now on its second interim leader, and doesn’t expect a permanent head to be appointed for four or five months, infrastructure-development head Gert de Beer said on Wednesday.

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