New Eskom CEO aims to keep South Africa’s lights on

Eskom’s new CEO, Andre de Ruyter

Embarking sooner than planned on the mammoth task of fixing South Africa’s power deficit, Eskom’s new CEO has taken charge of the crisis-plagued utility.

Andre de Ruyter, appointed by the country’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa in November, will oversee a government plan to split state-owned Eskom into three units — generation, transmission and distribution.

In an attempt to revive Africa’s most advanced economy, which is flirting with recession, Ramaphosa looks to attract new investment.

Eskom, which generates more than 90% of the country’s power, is in its current form, widely viewed as the largest stumbling block to South Africa’s growth, although the restructuring plan has taken shape against a backdrop of stubbornly high unemployment with unions pledging to fight it.

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De Ruyter had been due to begin work on January 15, but the sense of crisis surrounding the firm, which has lacked leadership since July, imposing the latest in a long run of power cuts at the weekend, persuaded him to take the helm early. Saddled with unreliable coal-fired power stations, the national utility has struggled to meet demand since 2007, resulting in several rounds of extensive power cuts.

Outages in 2019 dented economic output and shook investor confidence in Ramaphosa’s administration. At the weekend, it cut up to 2,000MW from the national grid due to a shortage of generating capacity.

In a previous role as CEO of Nampak, De Ruyter steered the packaging company through financial difficulties, and part of his new expectations is to restructure Eskom’s R450billion debt pile.

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De Ruyter’s predecessor, Phakamani Hadebe, had stepped down in July, citing health reasons.

In light of the new developments, one of Eskom’s largest trade unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has opposed De Ruyter’s appointment, labelling it a setback to efforts to promote more black professionals into senior corporate posts.

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