Gordhan slams de Ruyter, power struggles and accusations fly

The former CEO of Eskom, André de Ruyter, and South Africa’s Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan, have engaged in a public dispute over the performance and management of the state-owned utility. De Ruyter accused Gordhan of micromanagement and interfering in operational details, while Gordhan denied these claims and criticised De Ruyter’s leadership. Gordhan also questioned the timing and motives behind De Ruyter’s recently published book, which highlights the challenges he faced during his tenure at Eskom. The disagreement highlights the ongoing issues surrounding corruption and power supply in the country’s energy sector.

Gordhan slams De Ruyter as “know-all” with “pitiful” excuses

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has lambasted former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter over his excuses for failing to improve power station performance, reduce load-shedding, and tackle corruption at the utility.

Gordhan was called to appear before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday following De Ruyter’s allegations that he had raised the involvement of senior politicians in corruption at Eskom with the minister.

During his own appearance before Scopa last month, De Ruyter said Gordhan’s micromanagement was one of the factors that led to his abrupt resignation from the utility in December 2022.

“I think Mr Gordhan is known for a style that can be characterized as being extremely involved in operational detail,” De Ruyter said.

He alleged that Gordhan would often look for very specific details about Eskom’s day-to-day operations, including data about the performance of individual power station units.

De Ruyter also claimed that the minister would bypass senior executives like himself, chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer, and Eskom’s head of generation and speak directly to middle-ranking officials in the organization,

“Whether that was to gain information or to verify information, I don’t know, but it made life as the responsible accounting officer quite difficult,” De Ruyter stated. “[Having] many different cooks in the kitchen does not always result in a good meal.”

Andre de Ruyter, former chief executive officer of Eskom. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Gordhan has denied that he was overly involved in Eskom’s day-to-day operations, accusing De Ruyter of lying on this particular point and, in doing so, carrying out “character assassination”.

The minister said he could not give power station engineers instructions on how to manage generation units because he was qualified as a pharmacist.

“Unfortunately, I have to categorize this as absolute nonsense,” Gordhan said. “There was no micro-managing.”

“I think what we had was a CEO who thought he was a ‘know-all,’ and he certainly hadn’t worked in a power station before.”

Gordhan acknowledged he had not been shy to ask “tough questions” about why certain things at Eskom don’t work, what the problems were at particular power stations when units collapsed, and why the energy availability factor had declined over De Ruyter’s tenure.

“There is nothing wrong with that because I am required to give explanations to Parliament or the public about what’s going on,” Gordhan said.

“If tough questions cannot be answered, then it says something about the capabilities of individuals.”

Gordhan said there was no interference with the work of the CEO or any Eskom senior managers.

“If that is the excuse being used in books or interviews for the lack of performance, then it is a pitiful excuse,” Gordhan stated.

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Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises, during his appearance before Scopa on 17 May 2023

Gordhan also said that he only knew about De Ruyter appointing the George Fivaz Forensic and Risk team to investigate crimes related to coal power stations in Mpumalanga around June or July 2022, six months after the probe was launched.

He denied authorizing the private investigation, which was reportedly funded with roughly R50 million in private money from businesses.

“He merely in passing… said I am doing this because the law enforcement guys are not coming to the party.”

“He was operating on his own free will, so to speak, on this project and at the same time, it seems he was writing a book as well rather than focusing on his job of keeping the power stations going,” Gordhan said.

The book Gordhan referred to is De Ruyter’s Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, which was released on Sunday without prior announcement. Only a handful of journalists received advance copies to write articles for the Sunday papers.

De Ruyter has used the book to detail the challenges at Eskom during his three-year tenure, ranging from dealing with incompetence and complacency to balancing conflicting interests in government, corruption, and sabotage.

Gordhan suggested De Ruyter violated his employment contract by writing about his work and interactions at the utility.

“There is a clause in his contract that he signed when he was employed as CEO which requires confidentiality in terms of the institution that he serves,” Gordhan said.

Read more: Sworn affidavit: Why Eskom is failing – André de Ruyter

Gordhan denies “shooting the messenger”

Gordhan said De Ruyter was ascribing every problem at Eskom to the ANC rather than having the sense of responsibility accompanying the CEO’s position insofar as it includes acting on corruption.

The minister’s comments in this regard are disingenuous, as De Ruyter repeatedly publicly declared the steps they took to reduce corruption while he was CEO.

He criticized a lack of collaboration on the part of the South African government and law enforcement agencies when he raised these issues.

Gordhan, however, took issue with a question from a Scopa member whether his and the ANC’s reaction to Dr Ruyter’s claims were not a case of “shooting the messenger”.

“Mr De Ruyter is not a messenger. He was in charge of an institution,” Gordhan said. “This is not this poor little guy that is being attacked.”

“He was responsible in terms of his contractual obligations, by virtue also of his position as CEO, for whatever Eskom did or did not do.”

“His expressions about corruption [at Eskom] are nothing new. We’ve all said it, before his time, during his time, and we will say it after his time.”

Gordhan said the South African public would be more interested in “new and interesting” information, like whether De Ruyter had spent more time covering up his failures than improving Eskom.

“Was he recording every conversation that he had with everybody? Was he more interested in writing a book that would mask his legacy as far as performance at Eskom is concerned? Is that what this book is about? “Gordhan asked.

“If the message is there is corruption at Eskom, we have all heard it before.”

“If you are in charge, the buck stops with you. If you are in charge, you must show a sense of responsibility; and if you haven’t accomplished your mission, you must show a sense of remorse.”

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This article was first published by MyBroadband and is republished with permission.

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