Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG  - The National Union of Mineworkers has expressed dismay over the appointment of Andre de Ruyter as group CEO of Eskom, calling it a step towards the ultimate privatisation of the troubled state-owned electricity utility, which it vehemently opposes.

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan announced de Ruyter's appointment on Monday, saying the current boss of Africa's biggest packaging company Nampak had agreed to a lower salary than the position currently pays.

The ruling African National Congress and main opposition Democratic Alliance have applauded the move, but critics such as the Economic Freedom Fighters have decried what they say is a growing trend towards removing black South Africans from leadership positions in state entities, in a country still trying to undo the effects of decades of apartheid rule which gave minority whites overwhelming economic advantages.

In a statement, NUM said the selection of de Ruyter, a trained lawyer, was "a reversal of transformation gains we achieved since 1994" and a violation of the Employment Equity Act" which aims to achieve equity in the workplace by eliminating racial discrimination, among other measures.

"This appointment confirms the refusal by the government to consult unions. The task ahead for Ruyter is employing his legal skills to un-bundle and privatise Eskom. It also demonstrates government intention which is privatising Eskom at all costs and is not focused on saving the ailing utility," it said.

The union condemned what it called an ill-informed decision which had relegated black professionals and engineers to "second-rate graduates and regarded as associated with failure".

"Secondly, engineering skills are a requirement for success in an engineering firm like Eskom. Unfortunately, Ruyter does not possess such skills," NUM added, echoing a point made by other critics of de Ruyter's appointment.

African News Agency (ANA)