- Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has questioned the skills of Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
- Mantashe says Eskom needs a fixer right now, and De Ruyter is not best suited for this.
- The minister suggested that if Eskom were under his department, then he would have a say in who should be appointed to lead the power utility.
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Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has questioned the skills of Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, saying he isn't the type of leader Eskom needs at the moment.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, the minister, who is also the national chairperson of the ANC, said that the power utility currently needs a "fixer", and De Ruyter isn't necessarily that person due to a skills mismatch.
De Ruyter holds a Master of Business Administration from the Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of South Africa, a Bachelor of Civil Law and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pretoria. He is not an engineer, a sticking point for Mantashe, who said that running "technical machinery" requires "technical skills".
The minister admitted to the Mail & Guardian that from a theoretical perspective, De Ruyter understands what is going on at the power utility. But there's a marked difference in speaking about Eskom's challenges with chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, who is an engineer.
"… If you go to Eskom [and] you talk to the chief executive, at a theoretical level it's good. But when you talk to the chief operating officer [Oberholzer], who is an engineer, you feel the difference, because that engineer understands issues, he understands that to deal with load shedding you needs to maintain and service units that are not decommissioned, but not giving us megawatts," he said.
Mantashe described De Ruyter as an "alpha" who joins an institution after the fixer has done their work. "Eskom needs a fixer, a person who focuses on what is broken, and [who will] try to fix what is broken, and once he or she fixes it, moves on. Then you can have an alpha," Mantashe told the publication.
Mantashe also took aim at the Eskom board – which does not have an accountant or an engineer who arguably would be suited to deal with its debt burden and operational challenges. Mantashe said that the skills gap of executives and the board is something government should look into.
The minister said that because Eskom does not fall within the oversight of his department, he does not have a say on who should be the CEO. News24 has reported that the ANC's National Executive Committee have heard calls for Eskom to be shifted to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, under Mantashe - which may be a point of debate at the upcoming policy conference.
News24 also reported that Mantashe proposed a second state power utility to overcome energy supply constraints, and that President Cyril Ramaphosa has endorsed the proposal.
De Ruyter joined Eskom in January 2020, after the country experienced Stage 6 load shedding the prior year. Since he took over, he had to contend with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown eating into Eskom's revenue while trying to manage the debt burden and the restructuring of the power utility.
In 2021, South Africans experienced their worst year of load shedding with power outages occurring 13% of the time.
De Ruyter, however, has been outspoken about the government's delayed decisions in getting generation capacity online in time, which has now escalated into the load shedding South Africans experience.
Government is set to announce a plan to resolve the energy crisis.
Eskom declined to comment on Mantashe's comments.