You cannot hang around a cesspool and smell of roses

After almost four years of promises, dismal failures to deliver on those promises, lies, and then a spirited defence of those lies, we’re back where it all started – to what has become familiar, normal territory.

Public enterprises minister Lynne Brown has yet again failed to deliver on her many promises to rescue Eskom, and with it the fortunes of the nation, from the deep, dark hole that she dug for us all.

Last week Brown appointed two new members to the disgraced board of the power utility, and installed the inept Zethembe Khoza as chairman.

Professors Malegapuru Makgoba and Tshepo Mongalo have apparently agreed to lend their names and credibility to what seems to have been a looting effort orchestrated from the Saxonwold Shebeen.

This after six months of promises to appoint a permanent and capable board to rescue Eskom from itself.

Lenders have not been fooled. They declined to welcome the “new” board with any comment. But Germany’s KfW Development Bank told Business Day: “We were hoping they would bring in a qualified and capable board. It is extremely disappointing. While we would otherwise have an appetite to lend more to Eskom, without a credible board we will not be able to do that.”

Smart people Makgoba and Mongalo no doubt are, but they will soon discover that you can’t hang around a cesspool and still come out smelling of roses.

Those who have innocently trodden the halls of Eskom’s head office before them are still in need of the roughest of brushes to scrub themselves clean.

Khoza and fellow board members, Sathie Gounden chief among them, will be on hand to help, working enthusiastically to sully the impeccable reputations of the professors, and destroy any hope of South Africa escaping the doldrums of sovereign credit downgrades.

Brown’s addition of the scientist Makgoba and legal eagle Mongalo is a vain attempt to lend an undue modicum of credibility to a failed board that has been heavily compromised by a hugely successful project to loot the utility to bankruptcy.

Makgoba’s and Mongalo’s very first act of duty on the board will this week be to rubber-stamp Khoza’s cynical plan to return the suspended Matshela Koko to work – and then to promote him to the rotating CEO position he occupied briefly before untrammelled power led him astray.

Now that the sham that was supposed to be Koko’s disciplinary hearing on 10 serious charges is over – it was reduced to a theatre of fools by Khoza and Gounden’s irregular interference – the path is clear for Koko to pretend he is fixing the latest artificial load-shedding crisis, which Eskom seems to have manufactured with Gupta-owned Optimum Coal at Hendrina power station.

The facility has run out of coal because the Guptas have allegedly refused to deliver the product at R150/t – a price they were only too eager to agree to when they bought the mine two years ago.

So Eskom has agreed to give them R300/t, I’m reliably informed. This is the very price Eskom refused to pay Glencore-owned Optimum for coal in 2015.

But I digress.

Makgoba and Mongalo have until now served their country with distinction as academics at the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Wits respectively.

Like the well intentioned ones who came before them, the good professors will find themselves being used as instruments in a long game about which they know little.

Eskom is the place where reputations and integrity go to die. When Brown and Khoza are done with the pair, their credibility may well be in tatters.

Sikonathi Mantshantsha is deputy editor of the Financial Mail

Please sign in or register to comment.