EDITORIAL: Eskom elite run out of road
In Saxonwold and in Nkandla the search is on for a fresh bunch of candidates
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown’s account of how and why Brian Molefe was reinstated as CE of Eskom casts her as a hapless observer of the Eskom board and its capricious decision-making.
As she often has before, Brown took the Jacob Zuma defence — "I didn’t know; I was not aware; nobody told me" — in her affidavit outlining events pertaining to the reinstatement. If all that is true and Brown really was unaware of the terms of Molefe’s employment contract, the undertaking by Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane to grant him early retirement and the board’s decision to top up the pension fund to the tune of R30m, what will she do about it now that she is finally aware of the facts?
Well, at last it seems she has been prodded into activity, even if it was just to throw Molefe under the bus.
Although she initially told the court she would oppose the DA’s application to overturn Molefe’s appointment, by Monday when she filed her affidavit, she had changed her mind and withdrew her opposition to that particular part of the DA’s request for relief. Her affidavit remains before the court, though, clearly because in it she is at pains to make the case of how she knew nothing of what Eskom had been plotting.
In the past, even a week ago, Brown defended Molefe with passion. In a media conference to announce his return, she strung together a series of alternative facts, all of which had to do with Molefe’s greatness and how he had saved Eskom and made it a more sustainable company. She has also, in the past, dismissed criticism of the Eskom board, which she appointed, despite its multiple links to the Gupta family and its repeat record of dubious contracting.
But by Monday, defending Molefe had become just too expensive. In a pitiful appeal for some sympathy, in her statement to Parliament’s public enterprises committee on Tuesday, Brown said she had underestimated "the vitriol" of the public response to Molefe’s reinstatement. In the light of this, she had decided to back off and abide by the court’s decision.
So, to save herself, Brown has cut Molefe loose. It may, at last, be the end of his incredible run of political protection. As Eskom’s reasoning — and Molefe’s as well — as to why he should remain in the post is dubious at best, we may finally see the end of him.
But what of Ngubane and the rest of the Eskom board? As Pravin Gordhan said in Tuesday’s meeting in Parliament, they had let SA down and "don’t care" about the abuse of state resources. The time had come, Gordhan said, for them to resign or be fired.
Here Brown has nowhere to hide. As the sole shareholder representative, she is the only person who can hold the Eskom board to account on behalf of the government and citizens.
Brown, whose public statements are often cleverly ambiguous, said that it was not appropriate right now, in the midst of a court case, to dissolve the Eskom board. She had, however, taken legal advice on "its rotation" as the annual general meeting was approaching. So, it may be that Ngubane’s bungling is also becoming too costly.
It would be a safe bet to assume that in Saxonwold and in Nkandla, the search is on for a fresh bunch of candidates.
This time, though, the public will not be taken for fools. New board candidates will be scrutinised from top to bottom. The ANC as well as the South African Communist Party, Cosatu and the entire political opposition will have a great deal to say about who should run Eskom. The public is going to insist on competence and good governance.
This is good and will happen more and more as the space for Zuma and the Guptas to continue their nefarious activities narrows by the day.