Ralph Mathekga: Where to from here for Eskom?

Where to from here for Eskom?  (iStock, Gallo Images)
Where to from here for Eskom? (iStock, Gallo Images)

Freeing Eskom from the grip of the ANC-led government could also have implications on the behaviour of the private sector which could gain massive power through which to subvert the transformation agenda of the ANC, the argument goes, writesRalph Mathekga

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko has an unenviable task of squaring the circles, as the saying goes.

Diko is a very capable spokesperson, having cut her teeth gradually within the ANC structures until she attained the position of the Number One Spin Doctor in the Republic.

Diko speaks for Number One; president Ramaphosa. I will not correct anyone who refers to Diko as the Veteran Communicator.

Recently, however, Diko's job has been almost impossible.

Caught between a straight-shooting deputy president and an ever-diplomatic president, Diko's job is to convey the message of the Presidency.

The Presidency is comprised of the office of the president and that of the deputy presidency.

Even if the two may have individual spin doctors on their emergency dial buttons, the president and the deputy president must speak in one voice.

President Ramaphosa and his deputy Mabuza are not speaking in one voice on Eskom. This makes Diko's job difficult.

She must be a crisis manager, going beyond her call of duty as a spokesperson.  This is an impossible task recently, where she has been caught not making sense trying to reconcile the two's contradictory voices on Eskom.

Deputy President David Mabuza's first strike at Eskom was a direct hit, resulting in the immediate collapse of the utility's board, with the chair of the board Jabu Mbuza singing mea culpa.

When Jabu Mabuza resigned as the chair of Eskom board after David Mabuza's public rebuke of the entity, the board of Eskom immediately collapsed.

I agree with Cosatu that the entire board should go and be rebuilt afresh.

Mabuza's resignation has nothing to do with whether it is a matter of substance, right or wrong. 

The reality is that he acknowledges that he lost the confidence of the main shareholder and therefore could not continue.

That is what I call accountability.

It is not about whether one is right or wrong.

It is rather about understanding the chain of command and realising that one no longer enjoys the confidence of the upper authority.

It may be the case that Jabu Mabuza and his crew are the best we have in stabilising Eskom.

They may have all it takes to bring the utility to run properly.

However, they are put there by the shareholder. If the shareholder no longer recognises their contribution as positive, there is nothing they can do.

They all must go, competent as they may be.

 The challenge at Eskom has never been about the board, including all the bad boards.

The issue at Eskom is about the politics that is not aligned to take it to another level.

When Ramaphosa and David Mabuza take contradictory views on Eskom; they reflect the division within the ANC regarding what is to be done at Eskom.

This is not a management issue; it is rather a political one.

Should the ANC retain control of Eskom by virtue of being in government and how that would serve the party's strategic interests.

For the ANC, strategic interest could mean anything from comrades attaining tenders and therefore funding the party, to effecting a true transformation agenda through an entity that had the biggest spend that surpasses the GDP of some countries!

Freeing Eskom from the grip of the ANC-led government could also have implications on the behaviour of the private sector which could gain massive power through which to subvert the transformation agenda of the ANC, the argument goes.

Despite the ongoing tender festival, the ANC does not trust the private sector, and the private sector in South Africa has not been very exemplary to society. It often threatens to meddle in politics, something that irks the ANC, and even the moderates within the party.

This is the group that is suspicious of privatising Eskom and mortgaging the electricity demands of the country to a few rich companies held by who they consider hostile individuals, in the ANC world.

The ANC is able to mix genuine distaste of privatisation with some sinister motive to help itself to the public resources now and again. The ANC is a complicated party, and a 108-year old one for that matter.

Where to from here with Eskom then? 

Eskom continues as it is; on the verge of everything but nothing decisive really happening.

The ANC-led government mops up the Gupta mess at Eskom and resells the entity to the investors as investable.

There are no major reforms that would result in the private sector owning equity in Eskom, yet the private sector is expected to provide critical services to Eskom under a regulated state monopoly legislative environment.

This is a compromise.

No one loses jobs at Eskom and corruption subsides.

That's the type of deal that deputy president Mabuza could work toward now that he has become hands on regarding Eskom.

Given that deputy president has rejected Pravin Gordhan's approach, he can then craft his agenda regarding Eskom.

All this means it would be difficult to continue with Gordhan in charge of Eskom. 

Something has got to give.

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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