Arguments for and against Eskom CEO, De Ruyter’s appointment are misplaced


By: Clyde Ramalaine


The debate around Andre De Ruyter’s appointment as CEO of the troubled power utility Eskom is defined by blind attacks and defence perhaps from misplaced arenas.

As soon as the news broke on this appointment, a deluge of for and against small-talk flooded social media. Small talk because instantly South Africa’s known polarized reality evidenced itself in black and white binaries. Black and white binaries that primarily have at centre race as the cardinal consideration and interest. The contradictions on the appointed Eskom CEO did not escape the condemning from among others Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) who released a statement condemning De Ruyter’s appointment and later had to withdraw the earlier issued statement. Rumours have it that was possibly MKMVA’s last statement ever. We may only speculate that Deputy Minister Kebby Mphatsoe received a call from the president Ramaphosa instructing him to have it withdrawn.

Those against the appointment made their case as a regression of the adopted transformation agenda, something the Ramaphosa era is readily accused of being responsible for. They would advance this in frames of the undoing of progress made on the adopted transformation imperative because a white CEO is appointed. The unfortunate reality is that the notion of only a black identity CEO defenders trade in the currency of victimhood in the economy of race and often with a sense of entitlement and convenience.

This group will never admit the flawed state of their thinking because the historical pain of disenfranchisement remains paramount which affords them a right to a new form of oppression through entitlement. We heard the Black Business Council (BBC) President Mr. Andile Nomlala in the following words: “We are having a government that is running our state and we are entrusting them with our future and they find white males on the side of the road and they make them CEO’s of critical state-owned enterprises and that’s where our issue is at. I’m not a political party. I’m not trying to score cheap political points here. I’m a concerned South African citizen who is a black professional who goes to school like many other black professionals who qualify.” Nomlala statement is perhaps the clearest form of victimhood as theorised by McWhorter

On the other hand, as is common those who perpetuate a narrative of white identity CEO defence evidence layers of victimhood too. They sell SA and the globe the sophism of whites has become an endangered species that warrants defence at every turn. Hence you have them structured into outfits of ‘Non-Profit Entities’ in the ilk of Afri-Forum whose only interest is white identity defence anytime day or night and anywhere. This group is just as reactionary and trade like the aforementioned in the economy of race with the outdated eugenics currency of white superiority when they now want to claim whites’ marginalisation, therefore, victims. Another dimension on the part of this group is their brash liberty to underscore whites as supreme in knowledge, know-how and necessarily skilled. They also fundamentally work for the false claim of whites as immune to corruption, therefore, the obvious identity choice to be trusted to act in the interest of a democratic South African society. They have managed to persuade some ANC leaders of this their ‘sincerity’ to work for a better SA and are naturally trusted to lead, where political leaders are captured by their subservience to challenge this lie. The white identity defenders also suffer from the same historic entitlement.

Unfortunately, both these groups prefer to defend their respective binaries of race when they both do not problematize race. As with so many things South Africans, engage in the knee-jerk reactionary sense often heavily sedated with the drug ‘emotion which wears off after the first puff.

This makes it momentarily and hollow till the next issue surfaces. What can be said the biggest weapon of the black CEO defenders is noise which they translate on social media platforms – they, unfortunately, did not design or improve in a claim of ownership? This while the defenders of the white CEO notion are structured into funded and high-heeled non-profit entities to move the debate from social media street to Justice Street where they win cases when blacks cannot even organise themselves into any meaningful structure that details infrastructure and desired outcomes. Not that data owned black do not have resources to do what whites are doing, it’s a given that blacks out of the residue of colonial and apartheid experiences do not trust each other at all and find comfort in making noise when others organise around an agenda.

On another level condemning the appointment of De Ruyter is not even about De Ruyter but plays out at a political level since it is perceived as red-carding the Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, and that in South Africa for some is the ‘holy grail’. Gordhan is struggling to get the SOE’s operationally functional and delivering on their respective mandates and more than half of the SOE’s confirms acting leadership descriptions. Clearly he is running out of space and time to abuse his pet excuse of Gupta blame.

Ramaphosa, addressing a Black Business Council (BBC) meeting opted to defend De Ruyter’s appointment, with the following words: “The appointment of a new permanent Group Chief Executive at Eskom is an important step towards restoring stability and forging a sustainable path at this strategic entity. “We are undertaking these measures in support of the overriding effort to address the unemployment crisis.”

Listening to Ramaphosa in this instance one is compelled to hear him arguing De Ruyter a carefully selected ‘turn-around strategist’ thus the appropriate appointment. Ramaphosa just never gave any salient and substantive reasons for the choice of individual measurable against the evidence of his previous tenures or in successfully turning entities around.

De Ruyter’s appointment was also defended by the Minister in the Office of the President Jackson Mthembu, who despite making a public broadcasted statement failed to make any coherent and cogent argument for De Ruyter’s appointment. It became apparent that even the president’s engaging of this issue confirmed grave shallowness of wrapped in blind defence failing to engage the pertinent issues that warrant address for this critical appointment.

What Jackson Mthembu was at pains to explain is, yes De Ruyter is white and no different to a slew of black appointments previously that he claims as long as he remembers Eskom only had black CEO’s? His incoherent less structured and informed statement petered out into this straw argument.

Unfortunately, the presidency with this hollowed statement joined the presidency to the one group in making noise in blind defence of De Ruyter’s appointment.

Why are the attackers and defenders of De Ruyter’s appointment wrong?

· As to be expected both groups naturally consumed with race binaries of whites and blacks have as only interest their myopic group self-interest which has nothing to do with delivering leadership at Eskom or developing a South Africa for all.

  • Not surprising at all, both groups are immune to ask, what does Eskom need in a CEO? Nobody is asking what expertise the CEO is supposed to have to qualify for the position? No one is interested to ask is De Ruyter fit for this job?
  •  Non-racialism is conveniently abused as means to an end in this debate. The presence of a notion of non-racialism as evidenced by a De Ruyter appointment underscores the idea that non-racialism at its core exists at essential level to advance and benefit colonial and apartheid beneficiaries in a space of black dominance. I will ask again what I have raised before, should we not honestly engage this praxis of non-racialism as we have asked some vocal ANC leaders to enlighten us what they beyond sloganeering mean with non-racialism.
  •  To assess De Ruyter against anyone else the subject of previous performance becomes central. Meaning we are compelled to ask for the record of performance of De Ruyter at a bare minimum for his last two positions. That performance is quantified in shareholder interest performance and the national mandate of transformation. If de Ruyter lived up to make shareholders happy and was sensitive for the transformation agenda in having worked for this with quantifiable evidence, he is an automatic choice.
  •  It should be rather easy and straightforward to make a proper assessment on the fitness of De Ruyter if we simply look at the overall performances of SASOL and NAMPAK for its respective business objectives. On the contrary, we know that De Ruyter’s tenure at Sasol was problematic since the current Canadian crisis emanates from that era. His performance performance at Nampak if it’s about shareholders satisfaction confirms a share price drop from +R42 per share to a paltry R6.48 under his leadership as he exits.
  • Not even the president and his cabinet ministers are prepared to let De Ruyter’s non-performance decide his fitness for the job. Instead, the presidency is too concerned that if they must look in that direction, it would have to admit the appointment simply cannot stand.

At another level it cannot be that we are all silenced because the president and his opaque ‘new dawn’ decides we cannot question him on any appointments since in his thinking we have wholly outsourced our logic and power to him in the last election. Nor can it be assumed we must at all times in blindfolded sense assume the president and his cross-section of economic, political and labour elites interest group work at all times for the best of SA. That would be a fallacy of note.

In conclusion, we as the public have every right to question this appointment less in emotional knee-jerk retorts of subliminal narrow, dogmatic and easy racial frames.

We are compelled to ask why Andre De Ruyter, less in usual embarrassment behaviour of the political elite when they refuse to engage the discomforting issues. We warrant engaging this appointment less in the uncritical ANC inebriety of a slogan of “non-racialism” Particularly when that non-racialism slogan dictate perhaps in original intention strangely assumes an essential means to accommodate and defend the presence of colonial and apartheid beneficiaries at the proverbial dinner table

Beyond race and the social constructions of black and white binaries can we know why De Ruyter is the best choice if his performance at his last two jobs does not support this turn around strategist or specialist claims?

Shall we know why we warrant having confidence in him for this assignment when he failed his previous shareholders in growing the business? May we know why Nampak from leadership to procurement remains untransformed? Can we free these SOE appointments from the Minister of Public Enterprises in personality?

Clyde Ramalaine
Political Commentator and Writer
Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA
PICTURE: Supplied