Sikonathi Mantshantsha Deputy editor: Financial Mail
Picture: 123RF/ERIERIKA
Picture: 123RF/ERIERIKA

Now that the ANC has elected a president who is neither beholden to nor trapped in a project of state capture, the clowns at the head of Eskom have lost their major enabler: the political protection offered by President Jacob Zuma through public enterprises minister Lynne Brown.

If Ramaphosa and his team have any hope of leading the ANC in government after the general election in 2019, they need to assert their authority now and cut off the cancerous tumour of corruption in the country. As Niccolò Machiavelli put it in The Prince: "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him." Zuma, Brown, finance minister Malusi Gigaba, David Mahlobo at energy, and social development minister Bathabile Dlamini are among the people who should never have been allowed near any position of responsibility. Ramaphosa and his team must reduce cabinet to only 20 ministers and their deputies. But the starting point in their clean-up should be Eskom, the biggest risk facing SA.

As I write this, I’m reliably informed that the board is meeting to rubber-stamp the return of former acting CEO Matshela Koko. He was absolved in a sham disciplinary hearing on charges of conflict of interest and other serious irregular conduct.

Ramaphosa must give Zuma, Brown and all they represent their marching orders

We have documented previously how Koko’s disciplinary process was manipulated from the beginning by the board’s interference. Acting Eskom chairman Zethembe Khoza and audit & risk committee chairman Sathie Gounden, in particular, went out of their way to sabotage Eskom’s case against Koko. Damning evidence against Koko from a forensic investigation by law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr and auditor Nkonki Inc, sealed by legal opinion from two senior counsel — Azhar Bham and Terry Motau — resulted in 10 serious charges. Despite this, Khoza and Gounden went out of their way to manipulate the process in Koko’s favour.

By its reinstatement of the compromised and unsuitable Koko — who might also be found guilty of commercial crimes, should Eskom have the stomach to test the many allegations of corruption against him — Eskom’s board has signed its own dismissal letter.

Incompetent and unsuitable In this, the Eskom board will likely follow in the footsteps of the SABC board which, against all sensible legal advice and common sense, returned former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng to the head office. A few months later, not only was Motsoeneng out of a job, but the disgraced board had melted away under parliamentary and public pressure. That will happen at Eskom — and the sooner the better.

The job of removing the incompetent and unsuitable Eskom board will be made easier by the chairman’s own admission that it failed in its duties, the first of which is good corporate governance. In parliament three weeks ago, Khoza scored himself and his colleagues three out of 10 for this.

Furthermore, the leadership of Khoza and his predecessors has left Eskom bankrupt, and played the single largest part in facilitating SA’s sovereign credit downgrades. There’s a lot more at stake. Eskom owes the markets R471bn that government cannot stump up if called upon to do so.

Only the spineless Brown could reward that kind of performance. But she has long overstayed her usefulness — if she was ever of any use at all.

The ANC’s reconfigured leadership would do well to heed Machiavelli’s advice: "He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command." And the first, urgent command is to give Zuma, Brown and all they represent their marching orders before parliament opens in February.