Business Unity South Africa (Busa) president Sipho Pityana has cautioned against using the ongoing crisis at State-owned electricity producer Eskom as a “political football, as evidenced by the attack on [Public Enterprises Minister] Pravin Gordhan and the new-found passion, in some quarters, for moving Eskom from the Public Enterprises portfolio” to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
In a hard-hitting address at the Business Economic Indaba 2020 Pityana reiterated Busa’s position that the current lack of electricity security represented the single biggest concern of business. “We urgently need security of electrical energy supply, without which the country can’t survive, let alone business.”
Business was also deeply concerned that leadership appointment considerations at Eskom might become caught up in “African National Congress (ANC) factional battles that have nothing to do with national interests”.
Pityana’s statement came against the backdrop of calls from several organisations, including the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, for Gordhan to be axed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Gordhan’s opponents suggest he was complicit in Ramaphosa being misled by the Eskom leadership when he announced, on December 11, that South Africa would not be confronted with load-shedding again between December 17 and January 13. The President made the announcement after cutting short an official visit to Egypt on learning that Eskom had, on December 9, declared Stage 6 load-shedding for the first time ever.
In the event, Eskom resumed rotational power cuts on January 4, prompting the resignation of Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza, who, in his resignation letter, apologised for Eskom's inability to meet the commitment it made to Ramaphosa on December 11.
Within the ANC itself, divisions have emerged over Gordhan, with Deputy President David Mabuza saying the President was indeed misled, and a growing number of leaders indicating their preference for Eskom to fall under the political responsibility of Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
Opposition to the board appointed by Ramaphosa in 2018 had also increased, with ANC alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, calling for the board to be dissolved.
“We take no comfort from the resignation of the chair of Eskom, we need to be informed what happened to the restructuring recommendations made by both the board and the Presidential technical task team. How are the governance concerns raised by the board with Parliament going to be addressed?” Pityana said.
He called for a transparent board-appointment process, based on a well-publicised and considered board composition strategy.
“We are deeply concerned by suggestions that leadership appointment considerations at this critical organization might be caught up in ANC factional battles that have nothing to do with national interests.”
LEADERSHIP BY CONSENSUS WARNING
The Busa president continued to express support for Ramaphosa and his open and inclusive leadership style. “We would, however, caution against an overemphasis on leadership by consensus for this can condemn our nation to move at the pace of the slowest and the most conservative; or worst still being vetoed by an unaccountable lot. The challenges we confront demand urgency, agility, quick footed responses and yet humble and thoughtful stewardship.”
Describing South Africa’s current economic crisis as “unprecedented”, Pityana said the crisis demanded, “credible, single-minded, resolute and decisive leadership that sets the tone, determines direction and pulls the nation with it”.
“We surely have enough technical committees, task teams, Presidential commissions – including the planning commission whose recommendations gather dust in the presidency – summits, conferences and Lekgotlas, etc. Too many processes and little or no action.”
Engineering News provided LIVE coverage of Pityana's speech at the event: