Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) released a media statement on the appointment of Andre de Ruyter as the latest Eskom CEO on 20 November.

It included the following:

‘What we want to categorically and unapologetically state about the appointment of Andre de Ruyter by the Eskom board is that such an appointment constitutes nothing less than a setback in the history of the transformation agenda in this country. His appointment constitutes an insult to many competent black executives – in particular black women. Numsa rejects the re-surfacing of the old apartheid order where in the workplace, in this country, it was a custom and practice that the majority of workers sweat and toil to deliver competitive, quality production but when it comes to senior management and executive appointments, white males are given preference over blacks.

We will never compromise on the fact that if the majority of workers are blacks and Africans and the ones delivering quality production, then they must be demographically represented in senior positions in our institutions and have a clear career path, especially in public institutions such as State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). So far, the trend and statistics in the private sector continue to insult black and African workers.’

Behind the revolutionary declamations by Jim, one thing stands out very clearly: the socialist breast-beating about ‘transformation’ and ‘demographic representation’ is racist, pure and simple.

Numsa represents workers at Nampak and Jim is said to have butted heads with De Ruyter.

Numsa, originally a member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), gained real political power within the tripartite alliance under the presidency of Jacob Zuma. Like other trade unions of the far left mould, its power is now waning.

It is waning in part because, like the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), to which Numsa now belongs, it has failed to understand that the crises facing 58 million South Africans take precedence over saving the jobs of 300 000-odd members. Many South Africans have lost sympathy with Numsa’s logic-defying strike at South African Airways.

Jim’s racist rant will only find resonance with the Saftu unions. The tripartite alliance has accepted De Ruyter’s appointment.

To discredit De Ruyter, Numsa complains about Nampak (his former employer) having only 2 black (actually 3) directors out of 7 and an all-white management team. De Ruyter was also ‘appointed for his cold-blooded business practices which attack labour in particular. Therefore, for Eskom, we see his appointment as nothing else but as a vehicle to drive the privatisation, unbundling and the disposal of Eskom’s assets as well as the retrenchment of workers.’

It’s well and good to criticize, but unions like Numsa have failed to offer solutions that will actually save this country from ruin. The government has spent nearly two years implementing schemes that don’t work and yet refuses to consider privatisation.

Whether the government will yet allow De Ruyter to do whatever is actually necessary to save Eskom, we’ve yet to see. He may well fail for the reason many of his black predecessors failed: Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan’s continued interference with the board’s functioning.

Dismay at the ‘anti-transformationist’ agenda has also been expressed by the Black Business Council, Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (which later withdrew its statement), Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of Saftu and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The EFF decried the appointment as a ‘racist project by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to undermine Africans’. No surprise there, then.

Jim also said: ‘This is an insult to blacks and Africans in this country, that – to date – since the democratic breakthrough, we do not have competent black women and black Africans who can occupy such a position.’

But in case those who believe only black CEOs mean transformation, the Sunday Times revealed that as many as 27 top black executives were approached to apply for the job, but all declined.

‘All of them said no. A lot of black executives don’t want anything to do with state-owned entities. They feel there’s too much political interference,’ a government source was quoted as saying.

Another insider told the Sunday Times that ‘SOEs have ruined a lot of careers and reputations. It’s where careers go to die, and a lot of black executives are saying no to them. Eskom, as the apex SOE, is even worse, they won’t touch it.’

The shortlisted candidates for the position were De Ruyter, Andy Calitz, Ben Magara, Brian Kennedy and Dan Marokane.

Insiders with knowledge of the process said De Ruyter had performed extremely well during interviews and came top in the assessment processes. De Ruyter prepared a presentation that explained his approach to the unbundling process, how to restructure the debt, and deal with Eskom’s bloated employee numbers.

The insider said three names were ultimately recommended to Gordhan for a final selection by the cabinet – De Ruyter, Calitz and Marokane. In all the assessments, De Ruyter came out on top, with the board recognising his vast experience in the energy sector, gained during a stint at Sasol.

An ANC insider said the party did not understand the fuss about De Ruyter’s appointment, given that he had been endorsed by the board, the party and the government.

‘His name went from the Eskom board to the minister, to cabinet and the deployment committee. They all endorsed De Ruyter, that’s why the party immediately issued a statement supporting his appointment. This is not about race or transformation. Eskom is in trouble, it needs the best person for the job,’ said the party insider.

This suggests a real shift by the ANC about the need for race-driven transformation. Is the ANC finally understanding that the job is greater than ‘racial transformation’?

Apparently De Ruyter, who is an expert in restructuring, will execute a five-year plan that includes moving 15 000 of Eskom’s 46 000 employees to a separate entity and shifting part of its R450bn debt to the National Treasury. ‘He’s not going to fire people,’ said the insider.

But what if he decides he needs to? Will the government still support him?

In his Daily Friend column yesterday,John Kane-Berman discussed Stats SA’s comparison of incomes. The top 10% of black Africans earned 7 times as much as the bottom 40%. The comparative figures for the three minority groups were: coloured 4.7 times as much, Indian/Asian 4 times as much, and white 2.4 times as much. These income figures thus also confirm the expenditure figures showing greater ‘within-group’ inequality’ among black Africans than among the three minority groups. 

Bear in mind that these are statistics from the government statistics agency.

Stats SA speaks of ‘interventions’ to reverse inequality. Kane-Berman points out that what the country really needs is less intervention and more liberalisation.

And, it’s clear, less racism.         

If you like what you have just read, become a Friend of the IRR if you aren’t already one by SMSing your name to 32823 or clicking here. Each SMS costs R1.’ Terms & Conditions Apply.        


Rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything. Broke out of 17 years in law to pursue a classical music passion by managing the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and more. Working with composer Karl Jenkins was a treat. Used to camping in the middle of nowhere. Have 2 sons who have inherited a fair amount of "rant-ability" themselves.