Business Maverick

POWER CRISIS

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter: I won’t quit of my own accord

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter: I won’t quit of my own accord
Ekom CEO André de Ruyter. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phil Magakoe)

As power cuts intensify in South Africa, Eskom boss André de Ruyter is facing growing calls for him to fall on his sword. But De Ruyter says he has not been asked to resign by Eskom’s board or Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who oversees the governance processes of the power utility.

André de Ruyter says he doesn’t plan to step down as Eskom’s CEO despite rolling blackouts across South Africa this week, nearly two years after he was appointed to lead the struggling power utility.  

On 15 January 2022, it will be two years since De Ruyter was lured from the private sector and appointed as the 10th CEO of Eskom in as many years. His job was to reform the power utility after years of mismanagement, corruption and neglect in building new generating capacity. 

De Ruyter faces mounting calls to resign for failing to stem the tide of brutal blackouts that continue to leave SA in the dark and undermine any economic recovery efforts. The fourth quarter of 2021 was an opportunity for SA’s economy to recover from strict lockdown measures implemented during the third wave of Covid-19 infections, the week of anarchy in July, and disruptions at Transnet ports and terminals. 

Now, sustained power cuts are set to throw the economy into an even steeper tailspin. Business lobby group the Black Business Council, which says it was “overly optimistic” when De Ruyter was appointed CEO nearly two years ago, has called for his resignation as “the country has nothing to show but the most blackouts in the history of our beloved SA”.

De Ruyter hit back during a marathon Eskom press briefing on Tuesday, saying he doesn’t intend to resign of his own accord because the power utility’s board hasn’t asked him to do so. Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has also not asked him to step down.  

“I serve at the pleasure and discretion of the board. If the board asks me to resign, then I will resign. There haven’t been conversations about me resigning,” says De Ruyter.

He cut short his trip to the Cop26 Climate Summit in Glasgow and flew back to SA on Monday evening to deal with the load shedding that escalated to stage 4 a few days after the local elections and while matriculants are in the middle of their final exams. De Ruyter was in Glasgow to support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s successful efforts to secure a commitment of R130-billion of highly concessional climate financing from developed countries and the EU, to help SA move away from coal to cleaner forms of energy.

De Ruyter doesn’t believe that changing the leadership at Eskom would solve the power crisis while underlying problems persist, such as the urgent need for SA to ramp up its capacity to generate electricity. At the press briefing on Tuesday, he reiterated that Eskom’s ageing coal-fired power stations alone cannot perform optimally to respond to the country’s growing electricity demands.

“You can’t flog a dead horse and change the jockey on the horse. That won’t necessarily solve the problem,” says De Ruyter. 

“It is important to have the continuity of management rather than fall into the trap of having 11 CEOs in the past 10 years. That lack of continuity has contributed to the lack of stability at Eskom. The frustrations around load shedding will not be resolved by changing horses or jockeys at this point.”

Business Unity SA (Busa), another business lobby group, has defended De Ruyter, saying the crisis at Eskom precedes him and that it will take years to reverse the effects of State Capture, which resulted in neglect of maintenance on its ageing power plants.

“Busa rejects these calls [for De Ruyter to resign] and stands with the Eskom leadership in these difficult times. It does not help to exacerbate the ongoing operational crisis by creating a leadership and governance crisis at Eskom. We are of the view that this leadership has taken the tough decisions, shown remarkable openness and transparency, and, critically, developed a progressive future-looking plan that will see the diversification and decarbonisation of the electricity supply system in SA.

“Eskom’s leadership has been clear; given the state and age of the plant, maintenance alone will not address the real and worsening supply crisis — new capacity must urgently be added to the grid.”

Fuelling the calls for De Ruyter to resign is the promise he made nearly two years ago that the risk of load shedding would be greatly reduced over 18 months. The promise of a stabilised power grid has not been kept. 

But De Ruyter doesn’t believe that SA’s power system is on the “brink of a total collapse”, saying that the country has the “best system operators in the world” who can respond fast to plant breakdowns. 

He said the blame for the latest bout of blackouts cannot only be laid on Eskom, but also on municipalities that refuse to comply with its lo​​ad shedding schedule because they have procured additional power supply capacity from private sources. He says this is a “new challenge” in Eskom’s 14-year history of load shedding.

“Some municipalities have not played their role in implementing load shedding. During stage two load shedding, municipalities didn’t comply with their role of implementing load shedding. This has put us in a position of deepening the load shedding from stage two to stage four,” he said. 

Only eThekwini and Buffalo City have complied with Eskom’s load shedding schedule. This means that there are more than 160 offending municipalities that have snubbed Eskom’s schedule.  

De Ruyter says load shedding will ease to stage two in the coming days and possibly be lifted at the weekend. DM/BM

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  • Hiram C Potts says:

    I suspect that one of the underlying reasons for those calling for De Ruyter’s resignation has more to do with the fact that ESKOM’s procurement processes have been tightened up.

    Tenders aren’t being doled out as in the past, something that the previous 10 CEOs couldn’t or didn’t want to sort out…..

  • James McQueQue says:

    The COO says he can’t use the best contractors for emergency repairs due to regulations.

  • Alley Cat says:

    That horse has been dying a slow death for 20 plus years due to total neglect and fraud, theft, graft, corruption. De Ruyter has my vote. He never claimed to be a miracle worker and he is not a vet. I have been dealing with Eskom for most of my business career and have seen the sorry state of the power stations and their slow decline over the last 20 years.
    During the worst power outages in the early 2000’s we offered assistance to help resolve the issues during a meeting with one of the supposed responsibel high ups. The only question we got was “what is your BBBEE level?” and were then told that because we were below level 3, they weren’t interested.
    I agree with Hiram, but it was definitely didn’t want to sort out. How about those lifestyle audits on senior personnel. And why not go to the market for supplies to ensure that the BBBEE middlemen are not ripping you off? THEY ARE!
    Buy a car that has not been serviced for 10 years but in that time clocked 200 000km and expect it to be a gem after one service? Dream on!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    what actually is the function of the Black Business Council (racist by name as with all those who place a colour at the front of the name) calling for resignations of someone who has made an effort to right the wrongs starting in the Mbeki era (Medupi and Kusili was going to solve all electricity problems and we all know where that ended up!) perhaps Mbeki should explain why, like HIV, he denied the Eskom problem back then.

  • James Francis says:

    Utter nonsense from feeble, politically-connected groups.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Business lobby group the Black Business Council.

    What is that? Like men in black? Or is it a racist thing?

  • Paul Zille says:

    The loudest calls for his resignation are coming from NUMSA and the Black Business Council, two of the lobby groups who are directly threatened by the management reforms he is pursuing. Go figure.

  • Frank van der Velde says:

    There is a device called Watt Pro Saver being heavily marketed on e mail to “save up to 50% of your electricity bill”. It is a scam and will at best correct your Power Factor, which no domestic tariff charges the consumer. Please will DM expose this scam so that unaware consumers will not be caught

  • L Dennis says:

    You stay put mr. De ruyter. It is very difficult not to believe that outages is not by design…..tantamount to sabotage. We are behind you.

  • Cliff McCormick says:

    Of course replacing him with another ANC thieving and corrupt cadre is going to solve everything.

  • Sue Grant-Marshall says:

    I have full confidence in you Andre de Ruyter. Flying back here from Glasgow: calling a press conference: speaking up plainly about where Eskom finds itself now. How many of Eskom’s past CEO’s would have done what you have?!

  • Michael Van Niekerk says:

    Mr de Ruyter, stand strong. Do not give up. Thanks for your work.

  • Neil Parker says:

    Mr De Ruyter is doing the best possible job under very difficult circumstances. NUMSA and BBC should rather direct their efforts towards persuading municipalities to abide by the necessary load shedding schedules. There is no miracle cure for the current crisis which is not of de Ruyter’s making.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Maybe the BBC form part of the RET faction determined to slow recovery which would highlight its shortcomings in both policy and practice.
    Over time the Zuma government did a proper job which must now be reversed BEFORE a positive growth trajectory can resume?

  • Keith Bennett says:

    Mr. De Ruyter is doing and excellent job. Mr De Ruyter is quite possibly our last chance at surviving a complete failure of the grid. But that may happen anyway. Large plant, that is badly managed and maintained, can have a lead time of ‘years’ before it finally stops working completely. After the invisible tipping point is reached, no amount of money and time will save it. The saddest part of this story is the shear ignorance of those who were placed to lead ESKOM.

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