De Ruyter says position became untenable, as Gordhan pledges to deal with Eskom 'termites'

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  • Minister Pravin Gordhan says programmes started under André de Ruyter's leadership will not be interrupted when he leaves the power utility.
  • The minister implored Eskom workers to continue to stand against corruption that is undermining efforts to limit load shedding.
  • Gordhan also expressed gratitude toward De Ruyter, who felt he had to step away from his untenable position.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

As he committed to continue outgoing CEO André de Ruyter's efforts to combat corruption, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has implored Eskom workers not to take bribes and to stand up against corruption that is undermining efforts to limit load shedding.

The minister was speaking at a media briefing about De Ruyter's resignation. Gordhan assured that programmes started under De Ruyter's watch would continue, including the clean-up of corruption. Eskom was one of the main arenas where the state capture project unfolded. Corruption continues to plague the entity. 

Gordhan cited recent reports that multinational engineering company ABB paid over R2.5 billion to South Africa, for the bribery it participated in to secure contracts for the construction of Kusile.

Gordhan said that there are still "termites" within Eskom, but law enforcement agencies would identify them and ensure they end up in orange uniforms at a much faster rate than is the case currently.

Both Gordhan and board chairperson Mpho Makwana commended De Ruyter's professionalism in leading the power utility.

De Ruyter told the media that it was a privilege to lead Eskom, but he felt his position had become untenable.

News24 previously reported that Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe accused Eskom of "actively agitating for the overthrow of the state" by not dealing with load shedding. Mantashe has also been openly critical of whether De Ruyter is the best person to lead Eskom, questioning his skills and expertise.

Gordhan defended De Ruyter against Mantashe's accusations:

"In relation to the overthrow of the state [comment] and [whether De Ruyter is a] traitor, the emphatic answer is no. I am not going to qualify it in any way. Whatever commentary one might have about an individual, it is absolutely unfair and uncalled for to use that kind of language for somebody who tried their best to get Eskom out of the mess it was in. The more knowledgeable people know that the mess did not start in 2019... or in 2012. It started a long time ago and there is a long list of people who must be held responsible for decisions they did not make in the right way."

"Given recent media reports, I am, unfortunately, currently in a position where I do not regard that position as being tenable," De Ruyter said.De Ruyter said his position required the support of the "broader political economy." That support is also critical for "enabling the success of Eskom," he said.

"I have accordingly decided to step back to afford the shareholder and board an opportunity to appoint a candidate to the position of group CEO, which may be better suited and better equipped for the strategic and operational objectives at hand."

Gordhan warned employees against taking bribes or "handouts" from people. Most recently, a worker for a contractor conducting maintenance at an Eskom power station was arrested for sabotage. The worker was told that there would be maintenance and repair jobs if he carried out the task.

He called on Eskom employees to stay committed to serving South Africans instead of their own pockets.

Now is the time to stand up against corruption, now is the time for you to back South Africa as a country and now is the time for us to recognise that we work for the 60 million people in South Africa, not just for ourselves and not just for our pockets.
- Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan

Other programmes that will continue include the legal separation of the transmission entity and the appointment of its board – which should have the right skills mix, Gordhan said. Eskom would also continue to address load shedding by supporting the addition of new generation capacity to the grid – whether it is in the form of solar, wind, battery, pumped storage and even gas.

Details of the resolution of Eskom's debt, with the state taking on a large portion of it, will also be announced at the next budget in February 2023. Gordhan assured lenders that their money is safe and that they can reach out to both the board and his ministry to raise any concerns they may have.

Gordhan also assured that Eskom and the country remained committed to a just transition and plans to repurpose old coal-fired power stations like Komati with renewable energy would continue.

De Ruyter's notice period is two months, but he is staying on until March 2023 to ensure there is a handover to his successor.

READ | De Ruyter exit: Concern over energy transition, $8.5bn pledge from rich countries

Asked about Mantashe's comments, Makwana sidestepped the question and said it is not in his "purview" to determine whether or not De Ruyter is a traitor. Gordhan meanwhile said the answer is an emphatic no." Gordhan said it is "unfair and uncalled for" for such words to be used to describe De Ruyter, who had tried his best to get Eskom out of a mess.

Gordhan noted that South Africans are rightfully frustrated with load shedding, but the crisis started many years ago, before De Ruyter joined the utility.

"There is a long list of people to be held responsible for decisions they did not make in the right way," he said.

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