South Africa

POWER CRISIS

Thabo Mbeki takes swipe at Eskom executives, notes need to ‘raise quality of leadership’ in SA

Thabo Mbeki takes swipe at Eskom executives, notes need to ‘raise quality of leadership’ in SA
Cars on Harry Galaun Drive in Midrand during Stage 6 rolling blackouts. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick | Former president Thabo Mbeki. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick | Eskom’s Lethabo Power Station. (Photo: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times)

Former president Thabo Mbeki has implied that Eskom’s management may not be appropriately suited to run the state-owned power utility. Mbeki believes South Africa lacks true leadership in all spheres, whether in government or society.

Former president Thabo Mbeki took a veiled swipe at Eskom executives following prolonged rolling blackouts.  

Speaking at the University of South Africa’s Muckleneuk Campus in Tshwane on Wednesday afternoon, Mbeki quoted former  Statistician-General Pali Lehohla: “Eskom is a big business and, therefore, in terms of its leadership, you need engineers and economists but instead we have politicians and accountants.”

“I am not saying Pali was right, but this is what he said. But he was looking again at this question; I am trying to raise the quality of leadership in our country,” Mbeki said.

He questioned the defects at Medupi and Kusile power stations, which continue to break down despite their being the newest power stations built by Eskom.

Earlier this year, while responding orally to questions from members of Parliament, Deputy President David Mabuza said that while Eskom had made progress in identifying design defects at the power stations and was rectifying them, this process would only be concluded by the end of 2027. 


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Mbeki’s criticism comes after residents and businesses suffered long hours without electricity during stepped-up rolling blackouts. Eskom placed the country on different stages of power cuts from last week, with the power utility moving to Stage 6 on Sunday, which saw South Africans experiencing six hours of blackouts per day — sometimes more.  

Ironically, South Africa first began experiencing rolling blackouts in 2007 when Mbeki was president. In January 2008, Mbeki apologised for the load shedding and said, the government was taking “collective responsibility” for its failure to ignore Eskom’s warnings.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Waking up to Stage 6, now Eskom execs are fighting to fend off Stage 8 power cuts

A Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, placed the power crisis at the top of the agenda. This followed a virtual emergency meeting on Sunday with several ministers to discuss how to solve the energy crisis. Present at the meeting were members of the National Energy Crisis Committee as well as ministers responsible for overseeing the structure.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA heading for ‘disastrous economic consequences’ — Updates and analysis on the latest power cuts

After Wednesday’s meeting, Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had presented a briefing on the capacity of Eskom and a progress report from the Technical Committee of the National Energy Crisis Committee. 

 Cabinet expressed regret that intermittent load shedding is happening at the time when the government is vigorously engaged with the interventions announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 2022 to overcome the surmountable energy crisis facing the country.  

“Meanwhile, Cabinet remains committed to resolving the issue of energy security in the country and welcomes the concerted efforts being made by government and stakeholders to find a permanent solution to end load shedding,” Williams said.

Ramaphosa cut his international travels short to return to South Africa and deal with the Eskom crisis. Ramaphosa met US President Joe Biden on Friday, 16 September, then flew to London before Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday, 19 September.

He was scheduled to return to New York after the funeral to attend this week’s high-level opening of the annual United Nations General Assembly session. But Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, announced on Sunday that the President had changed his plans. DM

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  • David Mark says:

    The utter shambles of Kusili and Medupi lay squarely on the shoulders of the ANC, from the disastrous effect of tender swooping to benefit Chancellor House, to cadre deployment both at board level and through creating the acceptable practice of family mafia style business with parastatals for the “cause of BEE and redress”. Only a handful of the new elite mafiosos have benefitted, to the detriment of the entirely of the rest of the country, and little will be done in a hurry because those people are likely shielded from loadshedding, both on the power cut side but more importantly for them, from the economic side (because they’re rich from their theft). Thanks ANC, you and your policies are like locusts, devouring us as they’ve swept across the land and society.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Mbeki should stop at lack of leadership or capability of the ANC to run the country. The buck stops with the ANC. Unlike Mandela, Mbeki has lived to see the disastrous affects of an ANC lead country. Mandela had a dream. Mbeki is living the reality. Dreams most often don’t come true. But what does Mbeki do? He blames those who are trying to fix a hug problem that started happening under his watch and continued through the Zuma years until current.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Is this the same Mbeki who presided over the wholesale ” forced retirement” of qualified and competent people in all SOE’s, other government departments, and municipalities because they had the wrong coloured skin. The same Mbeki who replaced them with hopelessly unqualified and incompetent ANC hopefuls? Best to stay quiet and retired and spend some time studying the cause and effect of AIDS!

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      I have a different view on the nonsense of Mbeki getting qualified whites from out of government and state institutions as a former Deputy Director – General in the Presidency. On the contrary, he was accused of the opposite of keeping whites and not transforming enough the public service including State Law Advisors who drafted legislation. The CODESA agreement protected white civil servants from being removed. In fact, what we had, was a situation of qualified whites taking packages in DBSA, ESKOM and other parastatals and returning as consultants. NDZ had fall out exactly with Sipho Pityana in the DFA for allegedly keeping whites in the area of agreement between states, that is the legal department. You have to produce this white engineer hounded out by Mbeki because you are spreading lies! Mbeki spoke of a factory of lies that misinform people like you! Mbeki appointed people as ambassadors from the opposition including Colin Eglin and others! You have no facts but ut statements without any evidence!

      • allan j whitehead says:

        The racist is back commenting his usual bull shit on what he thinks he knows best……. pfff.
        Nonsense, you speak way above your station, stop spreading this lying bull shit msunu.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Pali Lehohla is exactly right. To run a major engineering enterprise such as Eskom requires top level technical skills, not politicians and accountants. Top level technical skills are typically not found by looking at the pool of connected people, but by looking at the pool of competent people (i.e. – to simplify this for the ANC – get someone who knows what he/she is doing, do not get a cadre). As long as we have the ANC with their insistence on cadre deployment we will always have load-shedding.

    • Ryckard Blake says:

      The evidence does not entirely support your assertion, Geoff.
      Eskom was in a very bad way in the early eighties after years of being run by the Engineer Jan Smith. Advised by Wim de Villiers, Botha brought in the ACCOUNTANT John Maree to Chair the business, and during his tenure, Eskom was totally turned around. Albeit with the help of legendary engineer Ian McRae as CEO, and the financial whizz-kid Mick Davis.
      True, Allen Morgan’s qualification was also also as an engineer, and the trouble really started when the ANC pushed into the top position a man with a BA – Thulani Gcabashe. Whether it was a BA or the fact that his appointment was intended to push racial transformation and the hell with anything else, others may argue.

  • virginia crawford says:

    ThecANC ‘may not be appropriately suited to run the state’ to paraphrase Mbeki. He was told 20 years ago that an energy crisis was looming and he did nothing, preferring to indulge his Africanist fantasies and nurse the chip on his shoulder. He criticise his own ‘comrades ‘ or be quiet. And the media should ignore him – he is a has-been.

    • Colin Louw says:

      It is actually worse than that. Mbeki is the one solely responsible for forcing Eskom to cut its maintenance expenditure 20 years ago in order to fast track the expansion of the network. He did this despite concrete plans proving that a) this would result in long term plant unreliability and would actually only make a small hiccup in the network expansion which would not only catch up with an accelerated plan he wanted but pass it because there would be more power! But he has a degree of dementia and so forgets the 300,000 deaths he signed for with his unbelievably stupid AIDS doctrine and the instructions to Eskom back then.

      • virginia crawford says:

        Agree.

      • Ryckard Blake says:

        Amnesia or Hypocrisy? He was well warned back in 1997 that it takes 10 -15 years from commitment to reliably feeding the grid. Yet he prevaricated for another 10 years.
        I just hope Mbeki’s comment about SA’s problems being the result of “lack of true leadership” does not amount to an announcement that he’s planning to throw his well-discredited hat into the ring to lead the ANC again. Heaven help us all.

  • Don Hunter says:

    This is rich coming from Mbeki, as he was the prime architect and enabler of comrade deployment, which has lead to the destruction of competent leadership.

  • Brian Fairbanks says:

    It was under Mbeki that Eskom’s problems started. Until the arrival of the ANC, Eskom had been a self-funding organisation for over a 100 years. Reserve coal was burnt, profits were declared, dividends were paid. All the money that did not go to SARS went to the Shareholder, one big pot. Huge “performance bonuses” were paid the the executives of Eskom for these profits, the bulk of which were obtained through cutting back on maintenance. At the end of the day, there was Eskom, no money, no coal and no maintenance. This was reported on at length in Finance Week at the time.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Marvellous, when he initiated the current situation by refusing to expand the electricity supply network when those who knew the business wanted to! How pilatic (a la Pontius)

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    People need to be able to understand the mandates of departments related to energy before they make ill – informed comments. For example DMRE is not responsible for a public enterprise called Eskom but for regulatory matter regarding energy. Mantashe served on the Eskom Council as a representative of NUM and we served together in NEDLAC as NERSA was being introduced. To say that Mbeki must not comment is like saying like the other lot that whites are responsible for poverty and supported Apartheid and must have no say on issues. At issue is the mandate of the current Eskom executives and board given the crisis at Eskom and whether they grasp the challenges at Eskom and are properly applying themselves to resolve the problems. If you follow their poppycock conferences they are nothing more than
    a running commentary on breakdowns and causes for black outs. You then do not have an explanation for these recurrent breakdowns nor the reactive approach to maintenance. In fact it their press conferences for me are a legal basis for their dismissal. Speaking to Mantashe in April this year, he explained that Eskom must fix the 20 000 MW that lies idle and bring it to the grid so that we do not have load shedding. He has called for the removal of de Ruyter. How do you lobby for IPPs as a CEO of Eskom with a debt of over R400 billion and how will Eskom pay this debt if Eskom buys from IPPs. How are they going to service the debt if cities are out of its grid? People do not think.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Step back and look at the big picture for a moment. What is undeniable is that the ANC is useless, corrupt and has quite literally destroyed everything for everyone in this country. Defend it all you like, but Thabo Mbeki is a part of that picture.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Not only is Mbeki’s hypocrisy coming out loud and clear about Eskom, cadre deployment etc, but he too grandstanded about the African Renaissance to the world – whilst on his very doorstep Mugabe was stealing the 1st Zimbabwe elections (the rest is history) that he and that hideous NDZ, who was foreign minister, turned a blind eye and pronounced the stolen election as free and fair. It was called quiet diplomacy then and now with Ukraine, the very same despicable and immoral ANC just subserviently kisses the monstrous Putin backside. Is it any wonder that the West dismisses us as a bunch of clowns and idiots?

    • virginia crawford says:

      Mbeki has escaped much criticism because Zuma was so much worse, but he is the original architect of many of the policies that have brought this country to its knees.

    • Gordon Bentley says:

      Agreed. In the mean time, they are burning diesel at an incredible rate, to keep the lights on. This is a more sophisticated/expensive fuel and should not be used as a substitute for coal. the ANC is obviously desperate and has few other options. Let’s hope SA will still have enough diesel in the country for agricultural purposes/food security???

  • Trevor Pope says:

    This is why we are in such a mess! Mbeki seems to be unaware of the damage the ANC has done and is doing with their 50’s era dogma. RET is here, proudly brought to us by the ANC.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Mbeki started this problem by ignoring the qualified people at the time . His pontificating as the grand wise man is really irritating as a result. He had his chance as Mr Delivery and this is the mess he has delivered to us.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    It is easy for Mbeki to now raise issues with the “quality of leadership” in the ANC (because he said “SA” but he really meant the ANC; that is the only place where the ANC government usually gets its’ appointees from, and when things go wrong, they usually blame the few who are not part of the ANC instead of those who cause the problem). Fact is that this whole problem with lack of electricity originated with HIS own leadership; I am not convinced that he really understands what leadership is really needed at all. Yes, you do need engineers, but as far as I know De Ruyter is an engineer, while the RET faction keeps targeting him. And you most definitely need accountants and business people too. But most of all, you need people that don’t focus on making money from their positions, but are committed to try to solve the problems. As long as that is the case, they will get the correct advice from real experts.

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