The newly reinstated head of South Africa’s power utility has been accused of attempting to influence a former minister, reversed plans to close power plants that his predecessor claimed weren’t needed, and set the country’s ruling party against its president.
He’s only been back on the job for two days.
Brian Molefe, who returned as Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.’s chief executive officer on Monday to staff posters welcoming back ‘Papa Action,’ was moved to tears when he left the role in November. He resigned following a graft probe by the Public Protector that found he made decisions favoring the Gupta family, who are friends with President Jacob Zuma. Molefe’s surprise reappointment, announced Friday by Eskom Chairman Ben Ngubane, sparked a backlash that’s stretched from opposition parties to labor unions and even the ruling African National Congress, which told the government to reverse the move.
“Politically and ethically the reinstatement stinks to high heaven,” Aubrey Matshiqi, an independent political analyst, said. “It seems to me that power has become so dispersed — that some power lies in the state, some power lies in the government, some power lies in powerful economic actors, some power lies in powerful families.”
Molefe’s reinstatement has exposed widening rifts within the ANC and between some party leaders and Zuma’s government. It’s revived scrutiny of the influence wielded by the Guptas, who are in business with the president’s son, Duduzane, and means investors must digest yet another surprise appointment, less than two months after Zuma replaced Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in a sweeping late-night cabinet overhaul.
ANC officials told the government that it should rescind Molefe’s reappointment at a meeting Monday attended by Zuma, party Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday. Action should be taken immediately, he said. The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, filed a court application on May 15 to set aside Molefe’s appointment.
Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe didn’t pick up a call seeking comment and the utility’s media desk didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Molefe’s second day back was already off to a poor start after former South African Minerals Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi alleged the CEO was present during a 2015 meeting when Eskom Chairman Ngubane tried to pressure the then-minister into suspending Glencore Plc’s mining licenses in the country during a dispute between the two companies. Ngubane threatened to go to the president if the request was refused, Ramatlhodi said.
Read more: It’s ANC Against Zuma as Eskom Hails Return of CEO