Cape Town - South Africa’s government named Tshediso Matona as chief executive officer of Eskom, the state power utility that’s struggling to keep the lights on following a decade of underinvestment in new plants.

Matona’s appointment was approved at a Cabinet meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown told reporters.

He will bring a “wealth of experience and is conversant with challenges facing the company,” she said.

Matona, who starts on September 1, will run a utility that provides 95 percent of South Africa’s power, has more than 5.2 million customers and employs about 46,900 people.

Among his most pressing priorities will be to ensure Eskom fills a R225 billion cashflow shortfall for the five years through March 2018 and to avoid having its rating downgraded to junk by Standard & Poor’s next month.

Eskom, which has installed capacity of 41,995 megawatts of electricity across 27 plants, has been forced to implement managed blackouts this year as power demand exceeded supply.

It is currently building two new coal-fired facilities -- Medupi and Kusile -- which will be Africa’s biggest when complete.

Eskom’s chief executive has “to be on top of the new build programme,” Anton Eberhard, a professor at University of Cape Town’s

Graduate School of Business, said before the announcement of Matona’s appointment.

“They have to demonstrate that they can actually get these plants producing electricity.”

Matona studied economics and politics at the University of Cape Town and obtained a master’s degree in development economics from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

He holds certificates in executive management and infrastructure development from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

He has served as the top civil servant of the Department of Public Enterprises, which oversees eight state companies including Eskom, since 2010.

He was previously the director-general of the Department of Trade and Industry, and a trade diplomat at the South African Embassy to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

His curriculum vitae on the Department of Public Enterprises’s website lists no work experience in private companies.

“You need someone that’s run a big organisation with big revenues,” Eberhard said.

“It would be very worrying if an appointment was made with someone who didn’t have that experience. You need someone who is going to bring a real hard edge, someone from the private sector who’s going to have to deal with huge issues of cost containment, improved efficiencies.”

Collin Matjila has served as Eskom’s acting chief executive since March 27 following the resignation of Brian Dames, who had held the position since 2010.

Matjila will return to his position as a non-executive director of the company. - Bloomberg News