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Warning over a different kind of blackout at Eskom: expert

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    Nat Quinn
    Energy expert Chris Yelland believes that the hasty exit of Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter is the start of a difficult transition for the embattled power utility that is likely to see escalating levels of government interference and a clamp down on information.
    Speaking to NewzroomAfrika following Eskom’s announcement that De Ruyter would be stepping down with immediate effect, the expert said the company is facing a severe leadership vacuum, which is likely to be filled with political manoevering.
    Along with De Ruyter, several other senior executives at the company have stepped down or will be stepping down during the course of the year. The group also received a new board in the latter months of 2022.
    Yelland said that the political vultures are circling.
    “There is a kind of a panic setting in, in the lead up to the national elections next year. We are seeing a lot of political intervention at the moment, and this is more about vote-shedding than it is about load shedding,” Yelland said.
    “The danger in this period of uncertainty, in this leadership vacuum at Eskom, is that it’s an invitation for politicians to step in and intervene – against all rules of corporate governance. The level of political intervention has already started, and the first casualty in this step backwards, I think, is going to be the flow of information.”
    Yelland said that the country would likely see the beginnings of an information clampdown following De Ruyter’s departure: less communication, fewer media briefings, and executives and spokespeople no longer being authorized to comment or make statements on the goings-on at Eskom.
    “This is the natural reaction in a clampdown after an Arab Spring,” he said.
    Eskom said that it was working on finding an acting group chief executive to replace De Ruyter, who was originally expected to be exiting the company at the end of March 2023.
    Regarding de Ruyter’s replacement, Yelland said the big fear is that the next chief executive will be a political appointment. This fear is exacerbated by the looming announcement of a minister of electricity and the preisdent’s apparent inaction when it comes to restructuring his cabinet.
    “The delays we have seen, there is an indication that within government, within the ANC, there is a lack of consensus. There is still contested territory. Again, that indicates a lack of action, a lack of certainty – and that’s the danger for South Africa.”
    Speaking in a hard-hitting interview with eNCA this week, which likely led to his sudden exit, De Ruyter said that political interference was already rife at Eskom, and that many of the company’s problems were rooted in this meddling and corruption by high-ranking politicians.
    Without mentioning specific names, the former CEO said that certain ministers were informed of corrupt activities being perpetrated by senior politicians, and shrugged it off as pragmatism or the way things needed to be done to address the ‘greater good’.
    He also accused the Department of Public Enterprises of being interventionist and micromanaging operations.
    Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan slammed De Ruyter for the interview, saying he should keep his political views private. Gordhan told MPs that De Ruyter’s comments – not his allegations – should be investigated.
    Gordhan, along with other senior government officials and the Eskom board had already long-abandoned their political support of De Ruyter. This was evident when none came to his defence when he was accused of treason by mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe.
    For his part, Mantashe adopted an antogonistic and outright hostile position on De Ruyter, blaming him for the ongoing power outages – accusing him of trying to overthrow the state – and trying to be a “policeman” by chasing after criminals and corruption at the group instead of focusing on the electricity crisis.


    Warning over a different kind of blackout at Eskom: expert (businesstech.co.za)

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