Pravin Gordhan doesn’t speak like a man under siege, with calls for his head coming thick and fast. He speaks calmly, with authority, on the myriad problems facing Eskom and other state companies. He has the statistics, numbers and most of the engineering jargon at his fingertips.
He knows what’s at stake.
And André de Ruyter, the new CEO of Eskom, doesn’t speak like a man who just took responsibility for a slow-motion train wreck that threatens to take the entire country down with it.
“Clearly I need to deliver results, I’m under no illusion on that,” he says.
But his plans are long term; cutting costs by fixing generation so Eskom can stop burning expensive diesel, for instance. He’s not looking for flashy quick fixes that will draw applause, he’s in search of fundamental changes that will put Eskom back on its feet – because apparently he thinks he has the time.
“I think I’ve got the support of the shareholder as well as the board,” he says, with no hint of hesitation or qualification.
News24 interviewed Gordhan and De Ruyter about the Eskom crisis separately, within hours of one another, on Tuesday, and the similarities in their outlooks were striking.
Between them, they share responsibility for keeping the lights on. Should things not improve at Eskom, it will be one of them – or perhaps both – who get the axe, and the historic footnote “failed the nation”.
The problems they face are ghastly in their complexity and horrific in their scale: decades of neglect and poor planning, brand new power stations apparently not fit for purpose, unions militantly opposed to change, entrenched interests fighting to keep their grip on enormous flows of money, and ever-shifting political landscape.
Yet both Gordhan and De Ruyter are eerily calm and confident. They speak of solutions and capability, not disaster. They speak of partnership and collaboration, not confrontation.
It is almost as if neither have noticed the noise around them personally, calls for their removal, sly references to their race, specially created graphics that trumpet their supposed dark pasts, and all the other Gupta-style attacks on social media.
Or, more accurately, it is as if they do not care. Leaks over the weekend indicated that Gordhan was being eviscerated by his political opponents on the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), with attacks being led by Mosebenzi Zwane and others.
Is a dismissal imminent? Not so, says Gordhan, who doesn’t seem to be bothered by the daily hysterics .
There was some criticism directed at Gordhan, but at the end the NEC agreed with his assessment. Why? “Because the facts were put on the table, not narratives. We explained the factual realities at Eskom and SAA to them. They could then deal with the facts. They could deal with knowledge. If they (those opposed to changes at state-owned companies) wanted to argue for something different, they had to show why.
De Ruyter knows who his boss is, and how to keep that boss happy.
“The issue is really about whether we have engendered enough trust in our shareholder,” says the Eskom CEO, when asked if he has the political cover to do his job, from his government owner.
“If we deliver on what we say we are going to deliver, I’m pretty sure that the close scrutiny from our board and shareholder will start to become less and less.”
Gordhan, who is in constant contact with De Ruyter, believes he is the right man for the job.
During the interview he twice says he has confidence in the former Nampak and Sasol executive. “You’ll see significant change over the next three months…actually, more like in the next two months. De Ruyter will go to the board and propose what needs to be done. We’ll see it happening.”
They arguably have the two toughest jobs in the country, never mind the public sector. But the message from Gordhan and De Ruyter on Tuesday was clear: “We’ve got this.”