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De Ruyter’s appointment a case of strategic misplanning 101

Published Jul 13, 2022


Masibongwe Sihlahla

It was with great fanfare that we welcomed Andre de Ruyter as CEO of Eskom. He came with a fount of experience and a skillset enabling him to take on the challenge, even though he had no background in energy.

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Two years into the job, it has become clear that by not knowing the layout of the land in terms of Eskom, he is being hampered in supplying South Africa with a sustained and continuous stream of electricity.

He has laid bare the multiple small fiefdoms of corruption by various power station managers, among other notable righting of the wrong, endemic within Eskom, and he has achieved tremendous success in this regard.

De Ruyter has streamlined a lot of operational matters too, in so far as management is concerned but, unfortunately for South Africa, his level of expertise and his skillset appears limited to management systems.

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Eskom, as the largest generator of electricity in Africa needs a person at the helm familiar with the nuances of electricity generation and supply, who perhaps has an engineering background and who, ideally, has grown organically from the ground up, as there are management and operational challenges unique to Eskom, which would not necessarily be found in any other company in South Africa.

Given time, I am sure Andre de Ruyter would grow to become familiar with all aspects of Eskom, but we do not have that luxury.

It has become clear that Eskom needs a leader with an electricity generation background, with the requisite technical knowledge to lead it out of the quagmire. And quickly.

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This is no indictment on De Ruyter, but more a reflection of the political decision-making of Pravin Gordhan who pushed for someone with no generation background to lead the failing power utility.

The minister, as the political head of the department and under he law, approves the process and does not intervene, as it is an operational matter and not a policy matter.

Eskom, as a state-owned-enterprise, should also have a panel discussing the criteria under which it will appoint the CEO, and whose recommendations are then submitted to the minister.

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Gordhan appears to have overlooked that his role in the appointment process is oversight of policy and not operational, as the minister seems to have been hands on in the selection of De Ruyter.

The conflation of roles and blurring of the lines is the beginning of a slippery slope of political interference that can lead to abuse of power and a loss of power for us, the citizenry, and our economy.

In all instances in the modern world, the buck stops at the top. With no one else to pass the blame onto for Eskom’s readily apparent failures, Gordhan is accountable to the South African people whose lives and businesses have been thwarted by Eskom’s inability to keep the lights on and the wheels of our economy turning.

Yet, Gordhan’s most adept role seems to be in skirting any form of responsibility or accountability for the failures of his portfolio.

Eskom is not the only SOE under Gordhan’s influence that has appointed skill-deficit leaders.

Transnet falls into a similar category and has suffered similar consequences. Is there a pattern developing?

I blame Gordhan for the mess. He admitted it without realising it, if you read between the lines of his press conference. If De Ruyter must go, then there is no way he must take the fall alone – Gordhan must go too.

Perhaps then, we will then be able to turn on the lights – and keep them on.

Masibongwe Sihlahla is an independent political analyst.

The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media or IOL