Gordhan slaps down Mantashe “overthrow” comments in belated defence of Eskom boss

Pravin Gordhan, minister, Department of Public Enterprises

SOUTH Africa’s Public Enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan flew to the defence of outgoing Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, saying at a press conference today he “emphatically” disagreed the state-owned utility’s failure to tackle loadshedding was tantamount to an overthrow of the state.

“Take it as an emphatic ‘no’,” when asked if he agreed with the incendiary comments last week made by Mines and Energy minister, Gwede Mantashe.

Mantashe was quoted by BusinessLive on November 8 of likening the continued failings at  Eskom to an attempted coup of his government. “By not attending to load-shedding Eskom is agitating to overthrow the state,” he said.

“It was absolutely unfair and uncalled for to use that type of language,” said Gordhan who added De Ruyter had sought to deliver Eskom “out of this mess”. Gordhan said Eskom’s problems had their roots “long before 2019”. De Ruyter was appointed in 2020.

Asked why he didn’t make these sentiments public at the time of Mantashe’s comments, Gordhan replied: “One doesn’t have to have public spats or differences in order to discourage any in cabinet, or outside, from making statements that are unhelpful at a time when we need to engenger confidence in the institution and government itself.

“People have a different style and I can also assure you Mr Mantashe doesn’t want anyone to be scared of him”.

He added: “The country is definitely frustrated with loadshedding, you have got to concede that. Business is upset with loadshedding”.

Mantashe’s comments, which were not defended publicly by Gordhan or President Cyril Ramaphosa, are thought to be behind De Ruyter’s decision to “step back” from Eskom.

De Ruyter clarified today, however, that he would stay on until end-March and then work a further two months in terms of his notice period.

He was not immediately stepping in to another role. “I intend to spend time with my family who have not seen much of me over the last three years,” he said. De Ruyter described his position at Eskom as “untenable”.