Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe.
Photo by Moeletsi Mabe / Sunday Times / Gallo Images /
- Former President Thabo Mbeki has dealt a blow to the country’s current leadership in tackling the energy crisis.
- Minister Gwede Mantashe believes such criticism from the former leadership is an “easy way out” and does not help solve the problems.
- SA’s energy crisis was caused by poor decision-making under Mbeki’s administration, but the current leadership won’t make the same mistakes, Mantashe says.
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Criticism by former president Thabo Mbeki of South Africa’s current leadership in addressing challenges such as the energy crisis does not help solve the problems, according to Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe.
During a discussion with Unisa students on Wednesday, on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of his resignation as president, Mbeki spoke frankly about the lack of leadership in the country.
“I think we have a major challenge here at home; it’s a leadership challenge,” Mbeki said.
He discussed the energy crisis and his inability to solve it. In particular, during the Mbeki administration, the government did not heed the warnings of the impending energy crisis and did not take steps to procure new power in time to avoid load shedding.
Mbeki’s remarks did not go unnoticed. During a signing ceremony for three new wind energy projects – which will add much-needed generation capacity to the grid – Mantashe addressed questions about the government’s handling of the energy crisis and, more specifically, Mbeki’s criticism.
“The worst thing you can do as a leader is criticize your predecessor and successor. The problem with comparing yourself to a predecessor or successor is that you seem to project your space as clean and everyone else is not clean,” Mantashe said.
He added that the leadership that is “retired” has a responsibility to assist those who are currently in charge.
“The leadership I expect from my former presidents is that they will assist the current president, addressing problems … It’s an easy way out, it doesn’t talk about the problem we’re facing.”
The minister added that the government would not have made the same mistakes it has made in the past, which led to the current energy crisis.
Mantashe has previously criticized Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Mantashe said Eskom needs a “repairman” with technical skills. He described De Ruyter as an “alpha” who joins an institution after the repairman has done his job. “Eskom needs a repairman, a person who focuses on what’s broken and [who will] it tries to fix what’s broken and once it fixes it moves on. So you can have an alpha, ”Mantashe said.
But at the signing ceremony, he seemed to have a more empathetic view of Eskom’s challenges, especially the lack of experience among Eskom’s power plant operators.
“We had a meeting with the Eskom generation group. In that meeting we met all the power plant operators … almost all of them are in that position for one to two years. They are relatively young,” he said. “Speak to the experience and breadth of skills [at Eskom]. “
Mantashe said that knowledge gained through education can only be converted into “real skills” through its application. Mantashe also expressed support for a mentoring program at the utility, where experienced engineers can advise and help current utility leaders. She added that upgrading Eskom’s management capacity would leave South Africa in much better shape.
He said that appointing “good managers” in institutions is important to avoid mistakes. “If we were to systematically improve Eskom’s management capacity, we would be better off. We would be much better.”
Eskom recently launched a crowdsourcing platform to find the skills needed to address its myriad of operational challenges.
“My opinion is that we need a lot of support for Eskom and the current leadership. But the first thing to help them is that they accept their shortcomings,” Mantashe said. He said this is a lesson that also applies to government leaders.