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By Sydney Majoko


New minister of electricity faces a department born out of failure

Before the president has even named the minister, Mantashe has already described the new minister as simply a project manager.

The creation of the minister of electricity is like rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic – and describing the country as a sinking ocean liner is right on the money.

As this ship is sinking, with one of the biggest holes bringing in water being load shedding, the president goes and hires a project manager to stop, or slow down, the sinking process. South Africans are now deemed as pessimistic and always ridiculing the government’s efforts.

If, indeed, this is how government responds to a national disaster by appointing a project minister, why not go the whole hog and appoint a minister of reading because the country’s 10 year olds can’t read.

And while you’re at, it the country might as well get a minister of crime, a minister of employment and, yes, a minister of poverty because all these are at crisis levels. The president’s minister of electricity comes in already handicapped.

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That minister, however bright and determined they are to end this country’s biggest problem, will come out of the blocks fighting political battles already. Before the president has even named the minister, Gwede Mantashe, minister of minerals and energy, has already described the new minister as simply a project manager.

Meaning that Mantashe, perhaps the most powerful politician in the ruling party after the president, still sees himself as being in charge of the energy (electricity) portfolio. And there is no reason why he should not see himself as such.

Add to that mixture the fact that there is a whole other department, that of public enterprises, led by Pravin Gordhan.

Gordhan has been hands-on in the appointment of the newboard at Eskom, as he should be. And he will have to be convinced, just like Mantashe must be, that his department must now let go of Eskom and let the new minister take the reins.

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Convincing Gordhan and Mantashe to shed part of their portfolios for the greater good might work in the short term, but in the long term it will mean that sections of their departments that dealt exclusively with Eskom will have to be done away with and cadres will have to relinquish their positions and titles.

That is the most difficult part, having to convince the new minister that he/she must work with staff from the “old” electricity regime.

That is a serious handicap for any project manager, coming into the project and being told your staff has already been chosen for you. The worst indictment for the new minister, though, is the reason it is being ridiculed: it is a department born out of failure.

Failure to manage what is already there. Failure to deal with the shortcomings that have turned Eskom from an exemplary state-owned enterprise into one that just exists to serve cadre deployment, dish out tenders and sometimes provide what it is there for: electricity.

There is no doubt that President Cyril Ramaphosa has created a “super” presidency in his office, because the new minister of electricity will be situated in his office, too. And there is a good reason why he has done this.

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It is to circumvent the need to consult the top seven, the national working committee and the national executive committee of his organisation before taking urgent and key government decisions.

His biggest problem, though? He is not getting rid of the dead wood who were meant to do the jobs that his new people are doing. And that dead wood lies in wait for his new minister.

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