PATRICK BULGER | Beyond a whiter shade of pale as De Ruyter flogs dead horse that’s Eskom

Some want him in, some want him out, while the EFF, well the EFF just wants to ‘moer’ him for ‘moering’ Eskom

16 December 2021 - 10:38
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter.
WHIPPED OR WHIPPING? Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter.
Image: Business Day/Freddy Mavunda

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Expect to see a lot more of our understated Clark Kent-style Superman who is CEO of Eskom and arguably one of SA’s most polarising figures on your TV screens in future. Polarising, though, is an unfortunate pun for André de Ruyter, who has been anything but in the strictly electromagnetic sense, and under whose leadership SA is suffering record blackouts. Or is that whiteouts?

De Ruyter prefers we don’t refer to “blackouts’’, but if we have to endure them don’t we have the right to call them whatever we like? A quibble, though, when the country has been hit in the solar plexus by this latest round of load-shedding, and the certainty of much more to come. Where climate change offers the promise of a longer-term existential calamity, Eskom is an immediate threat, now. Tonight.

Many want De Ruyter to go, but others believe he should be given a decent chance to run Eskom further into the ground, and that’s only part of the job, with restructuring and the utility’s role in a new energy future tacked on. Keeping the lights on is the least of it, even if it’s the most obvious. Amid the gloom, inevitably, the question has been asked, would De Ruyter have survived if he were black?

There have even been calls for the return of Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko, both former CEOs who have featured large in state-capture testimony, but who are said to have been far better. Who but themselves can be blamed for their being ruled out as would-be CEOs? Now it’s got that desperate that affirmative action and even ANC cadre deployment have been abandoned to try to save Eskom, and SA. Only staying the course with a white Afrikaner male, a quarter-decade after the end of apartheid, can right the foundering Titanic that is Eskom. It doesn’t get more symbolic than that.

Many want De Ruyter to go, but others believe he should be given a decent chance to run Eskom further into the ground, and that’s only part of the job, with restructuring and the utility’s role in a new energy future tacked on.

Perhaps the choice of a white Afrikaner male is symbolic justice delayed when one considers Eskom is the poisoned chalice inherited from apartheid, designed for an age when burning a fossil fuel attracted no stigma, and coal was plentiful and cheap when mined by black hands.

As for his quitting the job, he countered that there’s an English saying about flogging a dead horse, and that “there’s no point in changing jockeys when you’re flogging a dead horse’’. Blazing saddles on a dead horse?

While De Ruyter may have the backing of most South Africans, the same cannot be said of the people who work for him.

They’re in a dispute over salary increases and benefits, so they won’t trip over themselves to keep him on his lame steed.

Solidarity says management has got into the habit of blaming the workers. “There are no spares because there is no money. Staff are trying to improvise and get permission for makeshift plans, but when the pawpaw hits the fan, management turns on them and blames them,” said Tommy Wedderspoon of Solidarity. Especially when the fan is turning.

Numsa’s Phakamile Hlubi-Majola tried to be kind, I think, saying: “Eskom is a very complicated and highly technical entity. We continue to feel that André de Ruyter, who himself is a lawyer with no engineering background, does not actually understand these things.’’

If any good has come out of all this, it is that rare and precious light has been cast on the EFF’s solution to this “highly technical entity’’. On Twitter this week, EFF KwaZulu-Natal leader Vusi Khoza suggested: “André de Ruiter [sic], Pravin Gordhan and other @Eskom_SA thugs. Let’s get their home addresses and publicise them here now. Let’s go to their houses, drag them out and moer them. We are gstvol (gatvol). Let’s get physical with these idiots. Now is the time #Azikhale.”

Meanwhile, employees of Eskom are becoming ashamed of saying aloud that they work for the parastatal, or so says Solidarity, and many deny in public that they are employed by Eskom. Even in non-EFF strongholds, apparently.

That being the case, hug (OK, fist-bump) the next really tired-looking person you see because chances are they’re an Eskom employee and they’re just hiding it. And if you’re EFF, well you’ll “moer them’’, of course. Either way, as Khoza counsels, “let’s get physical with these idiots”.


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