What Oberholzer told Cachalia about Eskom exit

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Ghaleb Cachalia, shares the details of a conversation he had with former ESKOM COO Mr Jan Oberholzer following his sudden departure from the beleaguered power utility. And he gives his very frank verdict on the move. He also hails the government’s first step towards privatisation at Transnet, another struggling SOE – and says public-private partnerships are needed to fix the State’s non-delivery at all SOEs. He is very upbeat about the outcome of next year’s national elections, and says that while the African National Congress (ANC) is “scrambling” to hold onto votes, the coalition is “looking stronger by the day”. – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:34 – Ghaleb Cachalia on the sudden exit of Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer
  • 03:36 – On if there’s a link between the refurbishment of Koeberg and Oberholzer’s exit
  • 04:40 – On his prediction that we would return to higher stages of load shedding
  • 05:24 – On the news that the biggest port in Africa is being privatised
  • 07:17 – On if he thinks semi-privatisation is ultimately going to be the solution to rescuing all these troubled SEOs
  • 08:08 – His feelings on the upcoming election and beyond
  • 09:31 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Ghaleb Cachalia, shares the details of a conversation he had with former ESKOM COO Mr Jan Oberholzer following his sudden departure from the beleaguered power utility.

“Now, I was in contact with Mr. Oberholzer. And Mr. Oberholzer assures me that there’s nothing sinister about it, that he chose to leave and that he intends to, he feels rather, that he can be more of assistance to the whole power scenario from outside ESKOM rather than inside ESKOM. 

“Now, I think that’s probably a good thing in some ways because Mr. Oberholzer is an expert in transmission. That’s his forte. And Kusile is a power coal generating facility. So he may not know anything about that, but I think it’s best that they give that to someone who really knows their onions there. And a nuclear facility as in Koeberg is another story. That’s for nuclear experts.

Read more: Former COO Jan Oberholzer leaves Eskom by mutual agreement

“So if what Mr. Oberholzer says to me is correct, and there’s nothing sinister there…and he’s moving on at his request, then that’s all well and good. If he was forced out, which we don’t know, then we need to know why…”

Mr Cachalia points out, however, that Mr Oberholzer’s exit is “yet another sudden departure” at ESKOM. “And we need continuity and we need continuity of strategy and a continuity of input into operations. And if we have these continual sudden departures…then these things need to be examined rather carefully in terms of how ESKOM is recruiting and keeping people.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cachalia hails the latest development at another struggling SOE, Transnet, where the South African government has taken its first step towards port privatisation to develop and upgrade the Port of Durban.

“Well, I welcome the fact that the penny has finally dropped. We have been pushing for the partial privatisation…of public-private partnerships to fix the problem where the State couldn’t deliver.”

Read more: Ex-Eskom COO Oberholzer’s inside story on loadshedding, transformation, CR’s plan

Mr Cachalia urges for this to be “pushed across the board” in Transnet. “Because Transnet’s in a mess. Transnet is in a holy mess where profits are down, cash flow is down, revenue is down. And this in spite of a 5.6 billion Rand injection into, bailout rather, into the entity. And the executive is still in place. We’ve had a new board. The new board doesn’t look bad. Let’s see if we can bring this ship to port and in order.”

On whether semi-privatisation is ultimately going to be the solution to rescuing South Africa’s troubled SOEs, Mr Cachalia says:  “Well, the State has demonstrated in South Africa that it has been unable across the board in every single SOE to deliver. When there is market failure in a particular area, in the State area, then you have to look to other areas to dig you out of the hole. And the other area, there’s only one other area, and that’s private industry. So you have to start by doing partnerships with private industry. And if that works, Hallelujah, if that doesn’t work, or it needs more intensive involvement from the private sector, then you have to be open to that. But let’s take baby steps. It’s a good start.”

Read more: Lings: Decoded Eskom data, unleashed private sector brings SA hope for loadshedding’s end

On South Africa’s upcoming election, Mr Cachalia says: “The ANC is scrambling to keep the votes that it had … .The coalition…the Moonshot Pact as it’s called, which we are putting together, is looking stronger by the day. The polls are looking sound.

“A week, as they say, is a very long time in politics. We have many weeks to go. So let’s see. But it’s looking very good, and it’s looking good for the nation, because we need something qualitatively different here. We cannot have, in the interests of a capable state, in the interests of a social market economy which holds everything together, in the interests of non-racialism, in the interests of bringing corruption to an end…we cannot continue the way we are. So we are in a position now to move at speed. And believe me, we are.”

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