Chief executive of South Africa’s Eskom quits as blackouts surge
The chief executive of South Africa’s struggling state power monopoly has resigned as the country suffers its worst ever blackouts, throwing into doubt efforts by President Cyril Ramaphosa to fix the collapsing energy supply.
André de Ruyter tendered his resignation from Eskom on Wednesday, the utility said in a statement, a week after a minister in the ruling African National Congress called on him to quit.
De Ruyter will remain chief executive until the end of March “while we urgently embark on a search for his successor”, Mpho Makwana, Eskom’s chair, said.
South Africans have endured twice as many rolling blackouts this year as in 2021 with power cuts of up to 10 hours a day as ageing coal power plants have repeatedly broken down and newer replacements have malfunctioned.
De Ruyter, a former senior executive at Sasol, the South African chemicals group, was a crucial figure in attempts to turn around the so-called load-shedding or scheduled outages since his appointment in late 2019.
But he steadily lost support in recent months in the midst of a battle within Ramaphosa’s government over resources and support for renewables as an alternative to the coal that provides nearly all South Africa’s electricity generation.
The debt-laden utility has lacked funds for plant maintenance and ran out of money to replenish emergency diesel reserves weeks ago. The South African National Treasury rebuffed a call for more funding for diesel this month.
This year the government pledged to take over some of Eskom’s debt to relieve its financial burden and announced measures to boost investment in renewables outside the monopoly. But relations with the utility have since frayed.
Last week Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s energy minister, accused Eskom of “actively agitating for the overthrow of the state” under de Ruyter.
He called for de Ruyter to resign, even though his ministry has no oversight of Eskom, which falls under the department overseeing state companies.
De Ruyter told the Financial Times in October that he had come under fire from Mantashe for supporting renewables to rescue South Africa’s power supply.
“I got in trouble with Minister Mantashe for advocating a lifting of the cap,” he said, referring to limits previously imposed on the amount of renewable power private companies could produce. “He told me to stay in my lane.”
“I said: ‘Why would you not want as many megawatts as possible when you’re load shedding’ . . . one of the reasons why we’ve got load shedding is very much to drive — perversely in my mind — the preservation of coal,” he added.
De Ruyter had also pursued investigations into alleged crime syndicates that he accused of sabotaging Eskom’s coal power stations and looting resources such as coal and spare parts, thereby worsening the rolling blackouts.
“There have been a number of proven incidents of interference with plants in order to reduce the output of those plants, switches get thrown in gearboxes,” he said. “One of the reasons why there is this animosity towards renewables is that I think it’s very difficult to steal sun and wind.”
He had predicted that his position at the company was under threat.
“I understand that load shedding is like really bad toothache. And when the country has load shedding it becomes obsessed,” he told the FT. “Now the solution that some propose is to decapitate the patient. And that, in fact, will solve the toothache . . . Take me out. Problem solved.”