Cash-strapped power utility Eskom has appointed a new group chief executive.

Andre de Ruyter, whose appointment followed the sudden resignation of Phakamani Hadebe, will commence his duties on January 15.

De Ruyter is currently the chief executive of Nampak, the continent’s largest packaging company.

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said he was pleased with the appointment of De Ruyter, who has various qualifications, including an LLB and MBA and spent more than 20 years with petrochemicals group Sasol in a number of senior management roles.

“His portfolio included overseeing work in the US, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Germany and China.

“I would like to thank Mr De Ruyter for not only accepting this position at a difficult time for Eskom but given Eskom’s current financial situation, also agreeing to a lower compensation package than the position currently pays,” said Gordhan.

Gordhan said he was confident De Ruyter would lead a committed and capable management team that will work with him and the board to take Eskom forward.”

Gordhan said he was grateful to the board of Nampak for agreeing to release De Ruyter.

“Congratulations to Mr De Ruyter, and I offer him my best wishes as he takes the helm of this important national asset.

“The government is working to bring back the engineering skills and experience of competent and ethical professionals, that have been lost to Eskom over the years due to state capture and other incidents of malfeasance. We remain committed to strengthening the Board with the necessary skills set – this is being prioritised and further announcements will be made in this regard in due course.”

His priorities will include coming up with systems to minimise corruption that saw the parastatal in the previous financial year generating a R20.7-billion loss.

He also has to come up ways to make townships, like Soweto and Orange Farm, which owe Eskom billions almost R20bn, to cough up for electricity services.

There is also no light at the end of the tunnel for the company’s balance sheet which has seen the Eskom debt ballooning to almost R500bn while company has recently been struggling to keep the lights on.

In addition he has claw back R630-million that is owed by the neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Business Leadership SA posted on Twitter: “Congratulations to André de Ruyter on your appointment as Eskom’s CEO – one of the most challenging and important jobs in the country.”

BLSA continued on its open letter: “You walk into the job with the first order of business being to empower the good men and women in Eskom to stabilise the energy grid.

“We often dismiss how the issue of insecurity, which has plagued the parastatal over the past decade, has dented the confidence levels of the utility’s most important asset: its people – from its corporate head office at Megawatt Park right through to its furthest flung operations.

“This has fed into operational challenges such as load-shedding, which has once again appeared on the national radar to further weaken confidence levels and not to mention, growth in the economy,” wrote the organisation.

“Outside of the most urgent files that you will find waiting on your desk, there’s the matter of broadening the space for renewable energy as we transition away from our fossil fuel dependence.

“Eskom cannot do 20GW of renewable energy alone, but instead you must find Eskom’s strengths in transmission, systems planning and market operation to work with partners.

“Another one of your many tasks is to implement the process of managing the decommissioning of old coal power stations before they become stranded assets.

“We will support you in doing the right thing for the sustainability of the electricity system in the long term and you should understand that this journey will come with conflict in both the political sphere and within the organisation as the restructuring feeds into some job insecurity,” said BLSA.

Black Business Council president Sandile Zungu commended Eskom board for the making the appointment.

“We commend Andre for the appointment and we promise to work with him and his executive to turn Eskom around.

“The most important issues he has to deal with relate to costs, especially the input costs of generating electricity as electricity is becoming expensive, that’s why intensive energy users are closing down.

Zungu said hoped De Ruyter would focus making Eskom to provide cheap electricity.

“There are also Issues of coal, gas, human capital and capital projects that have experienced massive cost overruns. We hope will deal with those issues,” he said.

Natash Mazzone, the chief whip of DA, said: “With experience in both the private and public sectors … De Ruyter has a wealth of experience and we implore upon him to use this experience to set Eskom on the right course to recovery.”

She said De Ruyter’s priorities should include stabilising Eskom’s mammoth mountain of debt as well as ensuring a secure electricity grid for the nation.

“The DA implores upon Mr. de Ruyter to remain independent and beyond reproach as he takes on his new role. We will keep a close eye on the developments at Eskom under his leadership and hope that he will always act in the best interest of Eskom and the public,” she said.

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