Is Gordhan just making the right noises in asking Solidarity for help? - Businesslive

24 July 2022 - One of the most revealing things about public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan’s letter to Solidarity head Dirk Hermann, asking for help in “mobilising the critical skills” Eskom needs to do its job, is the uncertainty over whether the minister was entirely in earnest.

Michael Morris

One of the most revealing things about public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan’s letter to Solidarity head Dirk Hermann, asking for help in “mobilising the critical skills” Eskom needs to do its job, is the uncertainty over whether the minister was entirely in earnest.

If at first glance it seems obvious that the government (a senior member of it, anyway) now fully recognises the skills crisis that is surely unarguably of its own making and is willing to take help from whoever offers it, even a passing familiarity with the ways of the ANC, and the near-alpine heap of examples of the flat contradiction between what is stated and what is actually done, means any claim to certainty is conditional.

It is unfortunately true that whenever the government says something sensible-sounding — such as, say, that “the private sector is key to creating jobs”, or “give us a list of experienced engineers who could make a real difference at Eskom and we will rope them in to overcome our skills crisis” — you cannot count on any such statement having an obvious meaning without first scouring it for evidence of those mysterious ideological runes that have been known to turn meaning on its head.

On the face of it, it does look quite straightforward this time. In the same month as Gordhan’s budget vote speech in parliament — May this year — in which he expressed concern that “Eskom lacks engineering and technical skills”, Hermann wrote to him to say: “Since 2000 Eskom has implemented a radical transformation programme to accelerate the transformation process at the state-owned enterprise at a cost of about R1.8bn, while this programme has in fact reduced Eskom’s engineering and technical skills base. In most cases those skilled yet retrenched Eskom employees, who are also SA citizens, are still available to render services to Eskom, when or if required.”

Gordhan responded on July 14, thanking the trade union “for coming forward to offer assistance in mobilising critical skills needed to assist Eskom with generation performance challenges”, and setting out the kinds of skills needed — engineers (mechanical, electrical, nuclear, system, maintenance), senior artisans, and plant operators (coal and nuclear). “Due to the urgency of assistance required from Eskom,” Gordhan concluded, “can you kindly provide the list of names of engineers and technical experts that can be deployed … to address the generation performance challenges facing the company.”

While it may not be possible to entirely dismiss whatever habitual doubts hover over this exchange of letters, what is certainly true is that if Solidarity comes up with the goods, as it has promised it can, Gordhan will risk making a fool of himself if he fails to make the most of what his ministry apparently regards as a welcome offer of help. 

But I suspect the greater risk — and it’s one we all face — is being deluded into thinking that restoring skilled technocrats to key positions, or even having right-thinking political leaders in charge, will be enough to solve SA’s widespread dysfunction.

That the perversion of political leadership at Eskom and elsewhere across the state has been tolerated for so long and been allowed to become ordinary means what is now required is to change the way hundreds of thousands of staff think and function. That is the real cost of ANC failure. And that is the real obstacle SA will have to confront once the ANC is defeated, when voters ask someone new to start doing things differently.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-07-24-michael-morris-is-gordhan-just-making-the-right-noises-in-asking-solidarity-for-help/

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