Turmoil at Eskom

The resignation of Eskom chairman Mpho Makwana exposes the internal turmoil at Eskom and the leadership challenges the power utility faces.

On Monday, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan announced that Makwana has decided to step down as the chairperson and non-executive director of the Eskom board.

Makwana previously served as acting chairman of Eskom and was also acting chief executive while the corporation finalised the recruitment of a new CEO.

He will be replaced by Mteto Nyati. The department first said Nyati would be the interim chairperson, but it was quick to correct it to say he was the new chairperson.

Energy analyst Chris Yelland told SABC News that Eskom does not have a permanent chief executive and that it was not a good time to have further changes at the board level.

Yelland said well-placed sources told him that there was a growing disappointment in the performance of Makwana as Eskom chair.

“We saw recently that Minister Pravin Gordhan rejected his proposal for the new Eskom chief executive,” he said.

“That was a signal of a disagreement between the shareholder representative, Gordhan, and the Eskom chairperson.”

He highlighted that the public spat regarding the new Eskom CEO is only part of the reason why Makwana is no longer chairman.

Yelland said former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s book provided additional insights into Makwana and how he operates.

“It is not very complimentary. I have heard similar comments and negative feelings from other Eskom executives and politicians,” he said.

In his book, Truth to Power, De Ruyter said he had been polishing his resignation letter for some weeks before meeting with Makwana for a performance review.

“It became clear that there was no reasonable prospect of working productively with the new board, and with political support evaporating,” he said.

“The wholesale firing of the previous board, with the sole exception of Dr Rod Crompton, was, in my view, a grievous error of governance.”

He said the new board meant that he had to start from scratch explaining his strategy, the turnaround plan and, for some of the directors, the very basics of the business.

“This was an energy-sapping process, particularly when sniping comments were made by board members, or snap opinions based on an incomplete understanding of the issues.”

De Ruyter said former Eskom chairman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba had been diligent and dedicated Thursdays to signing documents.

“My office and the chairman’s office, under the capable stewardship of Zodwa Mantyi, had run like a well-oiled machine,” he said.

He said Makwana had none of this dedication to efficiency. “He would sit on letters and documents for months, both incoming and outgoing,” he wrote.

“At one stage, eighteen documents were in limbo – not being signed and not being actioned,” De Ruyter said.

“He also didn’t wish to sign even self-explanatory letters and documents without these being syndicated by two or more board committees.”

He said it was galling for Eskom management to be pushed by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Gordhan to display urgency when they were at the mercy of the ‘activist’ and ‘engaged’ board under a go-slow chairman.


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