Up to 27 black executives were approached for the position of Eskom chief executive officer, but all turned it down.
The Sunday Times reported that Eskom’s board composed a list of candidates for the role, and hired a recruitment agency to contact them.
“All of them said no. A lot of black executives don’t want anything to do with state-owned entities,” a government source told the paper.
This was due to a stigma of political interference and the fact that state-owned enterprises have “ruined a lot of careers and expectations”.
The Ministry of Public Enterprises earlier this week announced Andre de Ruyter as Eskom’s new group chief executive. De Ruyter is currently the CEO at Nampak, the continent’s largest packaging company.
He will commence his duties at Eskom on 15 January 2020.
Bloomberg reported that the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the two largest unions at Eskom, criticised De Ruyter’s appointment as a setback to the country’s racial-transformation agenda.
And the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, the second-largest opposition party, said the decision was racist and a deliberate attempt to diminish the role Africans play in the economy.
The Public Enterprises Ministry said it employed a recruitment company that identified 142 potential candidates to fill the CEO post and it drew up a shortlist of 17 people.
The utility’s board interviewed six of them, and submitted three names to the cabinet, which made the final decision.
Lobby groups Business Unity South Africa and the Black Business Council both said De Ruyter was appointed after a thorough process and they were committed to working with him.
“Inasmuch as the country’s transformational agenda should be supported, critical positions should be filled based on merit,” said Sethulego Matebesi, a political analyst at the University of the Free State.
“We should avoid turning every issue into a political hot potato. Does the new Eskom CEO has the requisite experience and skills? If so, let us support him irrespective of his colour.”
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) welcomed the appointment.
Sacci said in a statement on Thursday, that Eskom poses the biggest risk to South Africa’s economy and every effort should be made to fix the problems faced by the power utility.
Eskom has amassed R450 billion of debt that it can’t afford to service, is reliant on government bailouts to remain solvent and is battling to produce enough power to meet demand.
“Whilst Mr De Ruyter’s appointment signals a good intent by the Eskom board, we should not delude ourselves into believing that the mammoth task facing Eskom can be handled by one man,” it said.
Eskom faces significant problems in managing change, the large capital debt on its balance sheet, ageing fleet of power stations and other plant and equipment, backlogs in deferred maintenance, and cash flows that are restricted from a revenue generation side.
“The problem of what happens to labour efficiency at Eskom is going to be one of the major decisions that needs to be taken urgently, as Eskom is Human Resources top heavy.
“Eskom needs to operate within an optimum structure for its size and mandate. A major decision on this significant item is unavoidable,” Sacci said.