Even prior to Brian Molefe’s announcement that he would be stepping down as Eskom CEO, much had been written about the initial response of Molefe, the Eskom board and its chair- person, Dr Ben Ngubane, to the contents of the Public Protector’s ‘State of Capture’ report. All the respondents, including the chairperson of the board subcommittee on social ethics and sustainability, Dr Pat Naidoo, expressed dismay not only with what was written, but also with the process which followed. Indeed, they stood united in their horror that Thuli Madonsela would give precedence to a deadline over their “right to be heard”.
To be fair, anyone, no matter how thick-skinned, would feel deep anxiety at being named in such a report. Likewise, anyone with even the slightest human emotion would probably feel embittered at being effectively painted as corrupt without having had an opportunity to reply in person. It is, nevertheless, not advisable to act on such emotions, which is precisely what happened.
Instead of reflecting the high regard in which many South Africans currently hold the former Public Protector, Ngubane expressed disdain, stating angrily that it would be on Madonsela’s head should Molefe step down. Rather than acknowledging that the report makes no findings against anybody, Molefe dwelt on the fact that he had never been given the opportunity to offer direct input to Madonsela, or to interrogate the source of what appeared to be damning cellphone records.
Instead of accepting that Madonsela’s only recommendation actually provided a mechanism – in the form of the proposed commission of inquiry – for contesting the contents of the report, Naidoo pre-empted that process by hurriedly provided a detailed exposition of the “facts” as Eskom saw them.
Rather than acknowledging that society has legitimate concerns about the fact that certain individuals appear to have created a commercial strategy rooted in their proximity to power, which enabled them to influence appointments at key institutions and State-owned companies, Eskom was dismissive.
The upshot of it all is that the board and the executives did little, in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release, to restore confidence, or to build credibility. In fact, it could be argued that Molefe’s resignation letter was the first well-thought-out development at Eskom since the release of the report on November 2. Indeed, even if Molefe had refrained form doing the right thing, much of the public scorn arising from the group’s knee-jerk rejection of the report – including the now notorious reference to the ‘Saxonwold shebeen’ – could have been avoided.
How? Well, Ngubane could have taken a few moments at the interim results presentation to express the following. Firstly, while Eskom deeply respects the former Public Protector, it disagrees strongly with the way the ‘State of Capture’ report portrays the utility, its board and executives, as well as the Optimum-Tegeta matter. Secondly, Eskom is grateful for that fact that Madonsela has created a mechanism to enable the group to contest the report and that it is ready and willing to cooperate fully with the commission of inquiry. Lastly, Eskom encourages President Jacob Zuma to waste no time in establishing the commission so that the utility’s side of the story can be told without delay.