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South Africa’s struggling Eskom state electricity monopoly has ended an almost year-long search for a chief executive with the appointment of Dan Marokane, who will have the job of ending the wave of rolling blackouts throttling the economy.
Marokane, a former head of group capital at Eskom who left in 2015, will rejoin the utility no later than the end of March. He brings “experience working in distressed organisations with visible and pressurised turnaround mandates”, Eskom said on Friday.
He was one of a number of senior managers who quit Eskom in the past decade in protest at rising corruption under Jacob Zuma, the former president.
Eskom has increased power cuts to record levels this year as its fleet of coal stations struggle with constant breakdowns and plant malfunctions triggered by age, poor maintenance and graft.
Africa’s most industrial nation is on course to grow less than 1 per cent this year partly as a result of the so-called load shedding that has added to other blockages in the economy. South Africa’s biggest companies have resorted to starting their own private renewable energy projects.
“It is an honour to be chosen to lead Eskom at this critical juncture in its history,” Marokane said in a statement on Friday, adding that his priorities included rebuilding the generation capacity of power stations and expanding transmission networks. These will be needed to plug private investment into the grid.
Anger over the rolling blackouts is threatening the grip on power of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress in elections next year. But despite this, his government has taken months to find new leadership for the monopoly at the heart of the crisis.
André de Ruyter, Eskom’s previous permanent chief executive, quit in February after he was accused of treason by a government minister for not stopping the power cuts, was allegedly poisoned in his office, and openly accused the ANC of being involved in looting power stations. The ANC denied involvement and said de Ruyter had not paid enough attention to fixing the coal fleet.
Marokane will be Eskom’s 12th chief executive in the past decade. Calib Cassim, Eskom’s chief financial officer, was acting chief executive after de Ruyter’s exit.
The new chief executive most recently served as interim chief executive of Tongaat Hulett, the South African sugar producer, in the aftermath of its corporate collapse.
Marokane “has in-depth knowledge of the Eskom environment. He leads from the front. He will hit the ground running. That is what Eskom and South Africa need ,” Mteto Nyati, Eskom’s chair, said.
Eskom still generates more than four-fifths of South Africa’s electricity, mostly from coal. But Marokane is taking over as the utility is suffering rising costs, is forced to run expensive diesel standby plants to alleviate power station breakdowns, as well as falling sales as customers flee to more reliable energy sources.
Ramaphosa’s government has given Eskom some support with the $22bn in debt it has racked up, covering upcoming payments and providing cash injections. But the government is also legislating to introduce the country’s first electricity market under reforms to break up Eskom’s monopoly.