There can be little doubt of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s determination to root out corruption from the slimy and malodorous boardrooms of our parasitic State Owned Enterprises.
He was a good choice. And he is doing an excellent job, driving out the corrupt and the compromised, bringing in directors who can be expected to put pubic service above greed and self-enrichment.
So far, so good.
However, Gordhan is no Gandhi. He is no saint. His main achievement as Finance Minister, for which he was oft sacked by the Zuptas, was that he was honest, hard-working, opposed to sleazy projects like the new nuclear build.
The economy, though, did not flourish under Pravin. He was better than those who were sent in to replace him, but under his watch the economy limped along, unemployment remained horribly high. The ratings agencies were largely appeased, but they weren’t in awe of our Finance Minister.
Having him oversee the economy was acceptable, even if he wasn’t a great success. Putting him in charge of monopolistic utilities, maybe less so?
For all his fine qualities, he has one fatal flaw. He is a communist.
Now, we have seen the contrast between communism and capitalism. Both have their ugly sides, but if you want an efficient, flourishing business environment there is no contest.
Capitalism, albeit within a framework of rules and regulations, is the best choice to get things going, to create wealth and jobs, to provide goods and services. Even in a utility like Eskom.
However Gordhan has rejected suggestions that Eskom should be privatised. For him, it belongs within the grasp of the State.
Overmanned, inefficient, a financial mess. And, not too far back, unable even to fulfil its core function of providing a reliable supply of electricity.
What Eskom least needs is to function within the toxic embrace of the State.
Break it up, get some efficient management in there.
And what might we see? We could see proper coal management, so the grade is good, the supply is stable, it is properly stored. And there are no more dodgy deals with coal providers.
We could see a recognition that the energy mix in South Africa needs vision, forward-thinking, with a jump in the roles of gas and renewables.
No more nukes. The risks of corruption and radiation are just too high.
And much more recognition of the need to run fewer, cleaner coal plants.
Eskom’s attempts to torpedo the recent round of supply contracts with independent power producers showed the dark underbelly of this dinosaur, this left-leaning corporate bully.
President Cyril Ramaphosa may not be the political and business success of a Donald Trump, but he understands these things. He wobbles a lot on land reform, probably because this is the only way he can win the next election, but when it comes to the basics of business, he is a sound chap. More so than many of his Ministers.
Surely it is long overdue that he sits down with his cabinet colleagues, Communists especially, and gives the clearest possible warning that SA has a capitalist economy, and archaic, Soviet structures at Eskom and elsewhere must be overturned.
Pravin may not like it.
But, after all, it’s not as if he isn’t used to getting the sack.