Eskom is experiencing a leadership crisis. In the latest development, its chairman has resigned and is still without a permanent CEO.
On Monday, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan announced that Mpho Makwana has decided to step down as the chairperson and non-executive director of the Eskom board.
Makwana previously served as Eskom’s acting chairman and 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 quickly corrected it to say he was the new chairperson.
UCT Professor Anton Eberhard highlighted that in Eskom’s first 82 years, between 1923 and 2005, it had seven chairmen, each serving an average term of close to 12 years.
Between 2005 and 2023, Eskom had ten chairmen and 13 CEOs. This shows the incredible instability at the top of Eskom.
Independent political analyst Khaya Sithole told the SABC that this is predominantly due to an inability to balance the autonomy of the board and Eskom with the involvement of the government’s shareholder representative, Gordhan.
Sithole said Makwana’s resignation resulted from Gordhan’s rejection of Eskom’s preferred candidates for the position of CEO.
The board had completed the process of finding a CEO, but the Minister took the view that the board had usurped his authority as he was entitled to receive three options that he could select from.
Eskom’s board expressed explicit preference for one candidate. “That was bound to cause tensions,” Sithole said.
“What we hoped would be different is that there would be an appreciation by the Minister, by Cabinet, and the President that the crisis at Eskom requires immediate fixes,” he said.
Sithole said one cannot linger on dealing with the bureaucracy if an emergency needs to be addressed.
“I do think the Minister has to prioritise individuals who are politically palatable. While the individual must have the capacity and technical skills, they must also be an individual that the political establishment can trust,” Sithole said.
Eskom’s current board was put together under the leadership of Makwana after a mass exodus of board members last year.
South Africa was made to believe that this board would be given the resources and the space to deal with the country’s electricity challenges decisively.
“The fact that a year later, we are already seeing this board disintegrating and the chairman resigning is not a good reflection on the Minister’s ability,” Sithole said.
“The surprising thing about Eskom is that one thinks it has always hit the bottom of any crisis it can plunge itself into, and then it always surprises you.”
However, Sithole expressed his confidence in the incoming chairman, Mteto Nyati, as he has vast experience leading complex businesses.
Furthermore, Nyati has been intimately involved in the operations of the utility’s board for the past year. This means he does not have to go through a learning period and can hopefully hit the ground running.
“Whether he can survive the political headwinds that are inevitable will be the litmus test for him and the board going forward,” Sithole said.