Those Mantashe remarks and an ‘untenable’ situation – De Ruyter reveals why he had to leave Eskom
A week after Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe publicly accused Eskom management of ‘agitating for the overthrow of the state’, outgoing Eskom group chief executive André de Ruyter on Thursday pointed to ‘recent media reports’ as the reason for his continued tenure being untenable.
Outgoing Eskom group chief executive André de Ruyter has given the clearest reason for his resignation this week, saying he had “lost the support of the political economy”.
At a media briefing on Thursday, De Ruyter pointed to “recent media reports” as the reason for his continued tenure being untenable.
Chief among these are recent news reports in which Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe accused Eskom and its leadership of “agitating for the overthrow of the state”. In November, he called De Ruyter a “policeman” who did not have what it took to run the utility.
Daily Maverick has approached Mantashe for comment, but this was not received by the time of publication.
Daily Maverick previously reported that the minister made incendiary comments during a signing ceremony at the Independent Power Producers’ (IPP) office in Centurion on 8 December 2022.
“We are from the period of State Capture, but load shedding is becoming worse than State Capture,” Mantashe said, adding that the levels of crime and sabotage were limiting economic growth.
“Any other government can be overthrown for this level of load shedding. Eskom, by not attending to load shedding, is agitating for the overthrow of the state. If it is not addressed, then the state will be failing to do what it needs to do… load shedding is urgent; it must be attended to sooner than later.”
“We’re engaging with Eskom more aggressively and telling them to get investment into the grid as quickly as possible… energy is always used as a factor that attracts investment into the economy,” said Mantashe.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Gwede Mantashe has harsh words for Eskom as additional 1,759MW of renewables signed up”
In the time since, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan and the Eskom board have remained silent on Mantashe’s claims.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “André de Ruyter had a year from hell – and then he lost his political cover”
Now, in his first public statements since news of his resignation broke, De Ruyter – in general terms – laid out why he is leaving.
“I think the circumstances surrounding Eskom are well known. The operational challenges, the financial challenges, the challenges surrounding societal matters including crime and corruption as well as some of the issues that we have experienced in delivering the unbundling of Eskom and making sure that we can achieve our objectives in that regard.”
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De Ruyter continued: “With that said… I am in a position where I’m also dependent on the support of the broader political economy and that support is absolutely critical to enabling the success of Eskom going forward. Given recent media reports, I’m unfortunately currently in a position where I do not regard that position as being tenable and I have accordingly decided to step back.”
Asked directly whether he regards De Ruyter as a traitor plotting the overthrow of the government, Eskom board chairperson Mpho Makwana sidestepped providing a definitive answer.
“I don’t think it’s within my purview to determine whether Mr De Ruyter is a traitor or not. I think that question should rightfully be tabled to its source where those statements would have been uttered… So I don’t think I’m qualified to answer whether Mr De Ruyter is a traitor or not,” he said.
Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan shared his thoughts too.
“In relation to overthrow of the state and traitor, the emphatic answer is ‘no’ and I’m not going to qualify it anyway because I think that it’s unfair. Whatever comments anyone might have about any individual, it is absolutely unfair, and uncalled for, to use that kind of language for somebody who tried their best to get Eskom out of the mess that it was in on to a different kind of platform,” Gordhan said.
Answering a question, he added that “one doesn’t have to have public spat or differences in order to discourage whoever it might be in Cabinet or outside from making statements that are unhelpful at a time when we need to engender confidence both in the institution and also in government as well”.
“So, each of us has a different style in terms of how we manage these matters and I can assure you that Mr Mantashe doesn’t want anybody to be scared of him by any stretch of the imagination… those hyperboles that were used were precisely that.”
Gordhan continued that there should be continuity at Eskom in a number of the actions and programmes undertaken there under De Ruyter’s leadership.
“What we do require is greater deal of continuity, more stability, but that is why it is important that the people I described as termites – those who want to play a destructive role rather than a constructive role in a key area like energy supply and energy security – must be the people… all of us need to address to reduce the pressure on Eskom from unwelcome sources.
“Those who want to play a nefarious part in upsetting an important institution must be identified, must be named and must be dealt with not by just the law enforcement agencies but by society as well, so that we don’t just focus on one or two individuals who are ‘easy targets’, but focus on the real culprits, both in the past and in the current situation who are creating misery for millions of people in South Africa.” DM