Reverse De Ruyter’s resignation – IRR

President Ramaphosa and Minister Gordhan should publicly support Eskom’s embattled CEO against false attacks

Reverse De Ruyter’s resignation

15 December 2022 

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has reportedly tendered his resignation, but this should be reversed without delay by way of a public declaration of full confidence in him by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The IRR has written to the Presidency and to Minister Gordhan’s office requesting that they publicly support Eskom's embattled CEO against false attacks. Although no reason has been announced for his tendered resignation it is widely agreed that Energy and Minerals Minister Gwede Mantashe's false accusations last week effectively drove De Ruyter into a corner, and from there out of public service.

At a signing ceremony for new projects, Mantashe stated on camera that "Eskom, by not attending to load-shedding, is actively agitating for the overthrow of the state". This is a verbatim allegation of treason.

Mantashe preceded this absurdity by stating that "Eskom has 48 000 megawatts connected but at best it gives us 26 000 megawatts", pointing to a difference between the utility's theoretical capacity and actual inability to deliver electricity after more than a decade's neglect, mismanagement, and corruption. In 2022 Eskom had over twice the staff, but produced less electricity than in 2008.

To recall what exactly brought Eskom to its knees before De Ruyter entered public service, it is worth recounting just one example – the Glencore scandal – where a coal mine connected to an Eskom power station was effectively shut down by former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.

The State Capture Report, chaired by now Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, stated that in the Glencore matter Molefe pursued a "strategy which was doomed to fail", thereby shutting operations.

The means of this white-collar sabotage included injecting "a strong dose of sentiment and emotion into his narrative", for example being served tea "under a tree" was used "as the crucial origin of his crusade for enhanced black participation in the economy and the tea-under-the-tree narrative was introduced to enable Mr Molefe to assert the purity of his motives".

According to the report, "the most likely reason" for what amounts to Molefe's white-collar sabotage is that "he wished to encourage Glencore to divest itself of its coal interests in favour of those indigenious miners with whom Mr Brian Molefe believed he could do business but not any indigenous miners. There were those whom he did not favour. That, probably, was why Mr Molefe made it impossible for Phembani to conclude any deal with Glencore", which might have kept the wheels turning.

In other words, Eskom had been run by a man, Molefe, who would rather shut down multibillion rand operations than work with what is sometimes branded "White Monopoly Capital" or what former President Jacob Zuma called "clever blacks". As a result, the whole country suffers, but especially the poor who cannot find work in a country that runs out of electricity eight hours a day.

Mantashe's "actively agitating for the overthrow of the state” narrative is every bit as absurd and self-serving as the "tea under the tree" narrative, but it could be far more destructive.

Throughout this year the IRR has urged the government to follow the Zondo Report's unambiguous advice to face the tension between pigment politics and efficiency with open eyes. "Ultimately in the view of the Commission," the Report concluded, "the primary national interest is best served when the government derives the maximum value-for-money in the procurement process and procurement officials should be so advised."

The IRR has issued this advice directly to Eskom, and repeatedly in public statements. It is possible that Minister Mantashe deployed the false treason allegation against De Ruyter to drive him out and prevent Eskom from implementing the Zondo Report's advice to pinch pennies, starting January 16, 2023, at scale. It is worth noting that new Eskom board member Mteto Nyati has championed Zondo's common-sense advice too.

This matter can be remedied by Minister Gordhan, who made several comments this year that suggest a potential willingness to abide by the Zondo Report. To do so Gordhan must publicly defend De Ruyter against the false allegation of treason and request that De Ruyter withdraw his resignation application in light thereof.

Since this would amount to a clash between two ministers President Ramaphosa should weigh in and publicly request that his cabinet refrain from absurdly false allegations of treason, while openly calling for De Ruyter to stay and maximize value-for-money. No one in the world is better placed right now than Ramaphosa to talk about taking back a resignation.

The alternative is to remove De Ruyter by metaphorically obliterating the independence of his office. No matter how capable the woman or man may be that replaces him, they will know, as all South Africans will know, that the moment they become inconvenient to a politician they can be removed by a stunning falsehood with no support from those sworn to serve and protect.

Issued by Gabriel Crouse, IRR Head of Campaigns, 15 December 2022