ANC delegates are pushing for Eskom, other SOEs to go back to line departments, says party economic head

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Mmamoloko Kubayi.
Mmamoloko Kubayi.
  • ANC economic transformation chair Mmamoloko Kubayi says the state will not abandon its role in the economy.
  • Eskom 2.0 will help reassure ANC members on the importance of the state sector.
  • Pravin Gordhan's plan for a holding company to bring together state-owned enterprises faces opposition.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has carved out a certain direction for the economy. Do you expect opposition to the economic reform plan that he has embarked on?

No, I don’t really think there will be opposition. Everybody understands there is a challenge around the economy. We have got to grow the economy, create jobs, and deal with poverty. So, I'm not expecting opposition to the continuous implementation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan. 

Do you think that the shift to private sector participation, announced in the energy plan by Ramaphosa this week, will provoke a backlash? 

We expect there will be fierce contestation of ideas around this. Within the ANC the understanding is that the state must play a central role. And when a majority of ANC members feel that we are almost giving away state power to the private sector, there will be discomfort. But this is a mixed economy and there must be space for the private and public participation. So, these details will be explained on how we envisage things. 

In the same vein that President Ramaphosa announced the energy plan, while he was at the SACP conference, he spoke about Eskom 2.0, which workers and the left would be in favour of.

We have got to take all the announcements together and we believe we will be able to give an explanation at the conference on all the interventions needed. We will reassure our delegates that we are not neglecting our developmental mandate. People expect the state to provide free basic services to the vulnerable and become uncomfortable when services are in private hands. We will give assurances that the state will not neglect its responsibility to the most vulnerable. 

The idea of Eskom 2.0 was not in the discussion document put out before the conference. What is the vision around Eskom 2.0?

The issue here is we think we had all our eggs in one basket on energy security. We are saying let's not abandon our developmental mandate and have an alternative company in the energy space to ensure we have security of supply. We are hoping that this conversation will be accepted. Obviously, it is not in the discussion document and as we review the documents for the national conference this weekend we are hoping this is one of the issues that will be adopted.

A new company would have to be capitalised. It would need quite a lot of money. Is that realistic given the fiscal constraints?

Look, to start a company, there are various mechanisms we can look into. We do have quite a number of state-owned entities, some of which are not a priority. We can redirect funding and resources. It is not just a case of saying we need new money. We can redirect resources to the critical areas where the state must play a role. 

The Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan has spoken about a new model for state-owned companies, which would see some placed under a holding company run on a commercial basis. The question is raised in the discussion document of whether SA needs such a thing. What is your view? 

Looking at the inputs we are getting from the provinces I don’t think it is going to be supported. More people are saying we should desegregate the entities and take them into their line departments. It is difficult to have a single company where our state-owned companies have diverse mandates across the economy. The plan tends not to be favoured.

Eskom hasn’t been performing. Some in the ANC and the public have blamed this on the leadership of Eskom and André de Ruyter and Jan Oberholzer. Do you think this will be a hot-button issue at the conference?

Yes, I do think that that will come up. Ordinary members feel the pressure and Eskom is not something that people can keep their distance from. So, we do expect Eskom and its leadership will be a hot debate. The question around the colour of skin unfortunately does come up, [that is] to say he is protected because he is white. I hope we don’t degenerate into that and we can look at what is to be done.

André's acknowledgment that Eskom does not have all the skills it needs, provides a basis for delegates to say that even people in Eskom acknowledge this. There is also the question of the lack of skills of the board. We can't avoid this discussion, we have to have it and channel it properly, so it does not degenerate into a racial issue. 

There are several previous resolutions from Nasrec that weren’t implemented, such as the ownership of SA Reserve Bank and the land question. Do you think these will come back?

Definitely, they will come back. Delegates will reflect based on a progress report (from members in government). The issue of the Reserve Bank will come up, but the bigger issue now is not only the ownership but the mandate. People are feeling that the SARB should not only focus on inflation targeting but should also deal with issues facing small and medium business development and poverty. We do think inflation targeting is important, though. We can't afford to have bread costing R200. 

On the land issue, there wasn’t enough support to change the Constitution to fulfil the resolution. What happens next?  

The land issue will come up and we will give a progress report on what has been done. That we didn’t have two-third majority to change the Constitution remains a fact. We are going to have to reflect on that, and I think the issue will be us fast-tracking land redistribution and land claims. 

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