SLR: Eskom and The End of Race

With ironic eloquence, Simon Lincoln Reader juxtaposes two straight-shooting new lights at Eskom with its former corrupt, entitled former Zuptoid leadership to demonstrate how entitled crooks arrogated royalty status to themselves at the power utility. More than that, by showing how things have changed since the toxic Zuptoid network began crumbling, he gives us hope that the most important SOE in the country is at least in good hands. But first he takes us back a mere three years to when those linked to Zuptoid royalty arrogated to themselves a higher level of being than the great unwashed masses. Defining moments in the unravelling saga of latter-day South Africa are not always written in blood. They can be as banal as a simple courtroom outburst. It’s the back-story to the outburst that Reader provides here to expose it as a pivotal moment, one that epitomises the shift in culture from venal, predatory greed to service and a higher calling. Gone is the light touch and searing humour we’ve come to expect of Reader. Instead, he displays a precise, surgical, analytical touch that goes the heart of the delicate, fragile changes afoot in our beloved country. – Chris Bateman

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

The lid blew off Eskom’s culture of toxic associations one morning in October 2017.

It was the disciplinary hearing of Matshela Koko, the disgraced former acting CEO and the evidence leader, a slob called Sebetja Matsaung lost his rag. Footage captured an enraged Matsaung shouting at someone in the audience, before menacingly inching closer: “Who the f*%k do you think you are?”

On the receiving end of Matsaung’s abuse was the man many consider to be one of South Africa’s finest investigative journalist, Sikonathi Mantshantsha. He had reported Matsaung’s ownership of shares in a company with whom Eskom had partnered, constituting a blatant conflict of interest, and the lawyer flew off the handle. Proceedings were suspended and Matsaung was eventually fired, but many of us wished that Mantshantsha had carried in his briefcase that day the stick he uses to herd his beloved cattle in the hills of Nqgeleni.

**

No journalist expressed the mood of the country on the subject of state capture as well as Mantshantsha did. Every story he wrote on Eskom was as riveting as Sam Mkokeli’s award-winning column on the terrifying incompetence of Faith Muthambi; that he has always managed to project the story over and above his role spoke to that increasingly rare, higher loyalty of principle. He did this in an era of Zuma-inspired identarianism, where black critics were libelled as adversaries of “black excellence”, or worse, Askaris. It should never be forgotten.

On Wednesday it was announced that Mantshantsha had been appointed national spokesperson of the very organisation he has pummelled, exposed, ridiculed and embarrassed. Cynics will jeer: “inside the tent pissing out”. They may be entertained, for such is the uncertainty.

But his appointment is as significant as that of Andre de Ruyter’s, signalling the end of a game of paranoia that has haunted South Africa’s state owned enterprises into states of seemingly irreversible dementia.

**

Few countries in the semi-developed world have been stupid enough to use their most important asset as a Petri dish, but as if being cursed with symbolism and the pandemic of municipal defaults wasn’t enough, the damage major organisations inflicted – the types of corporates young graduates once aspired to – inevitably proved a burden too great.

What has happened here is symptomatic of near fatal ideological contamination, the terminal condition at the very end of the line. Men who underestimated Eskom’s importance, or knew nothing about electricity (except for Alec Irwin of course, who believed it was raised by wolves to grow on trees), or sought to use it as an experiment, were instrumental in the appointment of its leaders and in the drafting of policies that sacked or retired qualified engineers and replaced them with accountants or worse, management consultants – evident in the dreadful McKinsey-esque claim of the hopeless former CEO Thulani Gcabashe during the mid 2000s when asked to explain bonuses. “I think we, as a management team, have performed adequately”, he said straight-faced.

**

The ANC couldn’t issue the announcement of Andre de Ruyter as CEO without an accompanying disclaimer: no black person wanted the job. This is consistent with former Chairman Zola Tsotsi’s deposition at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry this week. According to Tsotsi, the sometime amateur pornographer Malusi Gigaba cancelled the announcement of an interim CEO in 2014 – on the grounds that the prospective candidate, Dr. Steven Lennon, was white.

Lennon had been employed by Eskom for 33 years. He holds a Master’s in materials engineering and boasts expertise sought across the world, particularly in renewable energy and climate change. But it is unlikely he would have been able to halt the utility’s descent: the predatory corporates and parasitic rent seekers were already feeding.

When Brian Molefe was appointed CEO some years later, it merely confirmed that evil had assumed the vacuums always – without fail – occasioned by ideological posturing.

**

I worked with Eskom in 2003 then again from 2012 to 2016. Both periods were happy and successful; what always struck me were the unfailingly good manners I encountered, the dividend perhaps of its greatest leader, Ian McRae. But there came an unmistakable shift, and its people began to walk the corridors as reluctant keepers of secrets they had nothing to do with, for many their life’s work tainted by the wrong people having the right jobs.

Depriving the public of electricity is shocking, but denying them the truth of the problem is cruel. The expectation is not complicated: Mantshantsha must pursue the truth, just as he did in his previous work. We know the rest. The most important institution has already taught us our most important lesson.

  • Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Medium.