There is a behind-the-scenes war between the Eskom board and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan about the power utility’s next chief executive.
The Eskom CEO position has been vacant since Andre de Ruyter left abruptly in February 2023 without serving his full notice period.
Calib Cassim has been serving as acting group chief executive, but everyone involved said finding a permanent CEO was a top priority.
In April, Eskom chairperson Mpho Makwana said they had identified five candidates and were at an advanced stage in the shortlisting process for the next CEO.
However, five months later, Cassim is still acting as Eskom’s chief executive without any significant progress on appointing De Ruyter’s replacement.
Last week, News24’s Carol Paton reported that the delay in appointing a new Eskom CEO was down to political infighting.
Paton said the Eskom board provided Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan with a sole recommendation for a new CEO.
However, after weeks of no action, Gordhan informed the board that he would require at least three candidates to be shortlisted.
Gordhan confirmed on Thursday that he had vetoed the appointment of Eskom’s recommended candidate because the board had only sent him one name for the post.
According to the Ministry, citing Eskom’s memorandum of incorporation, the state-owned power utility must provide three choices.
Paton said political infighting and a divided cabinet are most likely behind the delay in appointing a new Eskom CEO.
City Press reported that the Eskom board recommended former Eskom manager Dan Marokane, which faced opposition from Gordhan.
However, Gordhan was reportedly unhappy with the recommendation because “Marokane was expected to oppose interference in the management of Eskom”.
The ruling ANC prefers former Eskom board member Ayanda Noah, who is close to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
Gordhan is reportedly also unhappy with this choice as he and Mantashe often disagree on important matters.
The impasse on appointing a suitable candidate may result in the Eskom board having to restart the CEO recruitment process.
The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, Ghaleb Cachalia, said Gordhan seems to be looking for somebody who meets his specifications.
He said Gordhan had received the recommendation from the Eskom board, which he appointed, but decided not to follow their guidance.
“Now, one can only infer from this that he is looking for somebody who meets his specifications, not the board’s specifications,” he said.
Cachalia added that the ANC government has previously appointed Eskom chief executives who have been disastrous and caused tremendous damage.
“You can look at the history and will see a horror story. Now, what is the minister up to? Who is he looking for? And why is he kicking this down the road?” he asked.
Cachalia said Eskom is in a very difficult position, which hurts the South African economy and its citizens. “It is untenable that the situation takes this amount of time,” he said.
“This is all happening while the lights are dimming. Now, you know, to coin a phrase, Gordhan must get a life.”
He added that finding the new Eskom chief executive is not just a question of having the expertise to do so.
“It’s a question of being able to stand up to political interference and to say thus far and no further,” he said.
“Now, we had a CEO who did that seven months ago. He got shown the door, effectively, and his life was threatened.”
Cachalia said De Ruyter’s experience would make many executives hesitant to take the position, liking it to a hospital pass.