Highly charged atmosphere: ANC leaders in heated NEC debate over future of Eskom’s De Ruyter

  • There were calls for Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter to be axed during the ANC’s national executive committee meeting on Friday. 
  • Some in the party, however, felt it was improper for the ANC to discuss De Ruyter’s fate.
  • Sources in the meeting said there was a push for De Ruyter to be replaced with someone who has “relevant qualifications in the engineering field”. 

Some ANC national executive committee (NEC) members argued in a meeting on Friday that Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter should face the chop.

This was raised when Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was updating the NEC on the country’s electricity crises.

Other party leaders, however, argued that it was improper for the ANC to discuss De Ruyter’s fate.

The meeting heard vehement arguments from party leaders that the Eskom crisis, which this week resulted in indefinite Stage 6 load shedding, was not being adequately managed by De Ruyter. 

Three sources in the meeting said there had been  a push for De Ruyter to be replaced with someone who has “relevant qualifications in the engineering field”. 

An insider at the meeting said:

He is a lawyer. We said he is not solving the problems at Eskom because he does not have the academic qualifications and technical skills.

Provincial ANC leaders – including KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo, Gauteng provincial secretary TK Nciza, and Limpopo provincial secretary Reuben Madadzhe – raised concerns about how the Eskom crisis was being managed.

They argued that it was inevitable that the ANC would be punished for Eskom’s failures. However, it is understood that there was some pushback from other party leaders at the meeting.

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“One minister said to be careful about talking about firing him [De Ruyter], because if he is dismissed and there was this discussion in an ANC meeting, he could sue the state for wrongful dismissal and win,” the source said.

The insider said the ANC ought to have learnt from the Zondo Commission, where it was slammed for getting involved in the hiring and firing of executives of state-owned entities.

A second insider at the meeting said those questioning De Ruyter’s suitabilty for the job were simply “advising the state as the main shareholder in Eskom”.

He said:

We are not his employer. We can’t fire him. We are just advising the state.

The debate over the fate of De Ruyter comes after ANC national chairperson and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said this week that Eskom’s failure to arrest the decline of the generation fleet could be interpreted as an attempt to overthrow the government.

He earlier told News24 that De Ruyter was like a “policeman” who was chasing criminals at Eskom, but did not have the technical capabilities to turn around the power utility. 

In his report on the persisting Stage 6 load shedding, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan attributed the crisis to poor maintenance and sabotage at power stations.

Three sources in the meeting said NEC members had expressed concern about how no new solutions to the crisis were tabled by those responsible.

Gordhan was quizzed about why there were extreme power cuts, in the form of Stage 6 load shedding, when the demand was low, because it is summer.

In his presentation, the minister said breakdowns at power stations were the core reason for indefinite load shedding.

Beyond the discussion around Eskom, sources said the meeting also discussed administrative issues ahead of the party conference. 

Pieter du Toit | State of the Nation: De Ruyter on the brink after Mantashe’s extraordinary attack

There was a discussion about the organisational report that is due to be presented to delegates at the conference next Friday.

An effort to discuss the fate of President Cyril Ramaphosa was thwarted when the integrity commission did not present any of its outstanding reports to the meeting.

A third source noted:

We said the commission must come to the conference and tell delegates what it found regarding Phala Phala.

While there was an effort to object to the way the ANC had handled a debate on the Section 89 panel report, it was shut down by Mantashe.

ANC presidential candidate Zweli Mkhize tried to raise the matter in Friday’s meeting, but Mantashe did not allow the discussion to go further.

Mkhize said the way in which the ANC had handled its NEC meeting, with views being muzzled and the meeting quickly being shut down, was unheard of.

The NEC resolved on Monday that ANC MPs should not support a vote in favour of the report that found that Ramaphosa may have violated the Constitution.

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If the report is adopted by Parliament, Ramaphosa will face an impeachment inquiry.

The ANC’s integrity commission also probed the accusations of impropriety surrounding Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala dealings.

A draft report said the matter had brought the ANC into disrepute, but they were yet to finalise a final version.