Dump race-based doubts about DA leader, Eskom CEO

Nompumelelo Runji, in a racially inspired piece ('Steenhuisen, De Ruyter face pressure to dispel doubts about white male leaders', November 21), argues that the election of John Steenhuisen as the DA's interim leader and the appointment of Andre de Ruyter as CEO of Eskom has reignited "a fierce debate about transformation in SA, in particular the erosion of the gains of the past few decades".

She is presumably referring to the erosion of the ongoing effort by racial nationalists to establish an ethnocracy, which is defined as a type of political system in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group to further its interests, power and resources.

It escapes her understanding that Steenhuisen's election and De Ruyter's appointment ought to have little to do with the circumstances of their birth or skin colour. It would serve her well to understand that merit and fitness for purpose ought to be the sole criteria for the positions.

In the two instances cited by Runji, the erstwhile incumbents whom Steenhuisen and De Ruyter replaced, failed, not because they were black, but because one was responsible for the first-ever decline in electoral fortunes of the DA (the crucially important official opposition to the governing party). The other because he continued to oversee the virtual demise of arguably the most impactful public entity in the country.

De Ruyter was chosen from 142 candidates, eight of whom were Eskom employees. A list of 17 individuals was shortlisted, eight withdrew, after which the board
interviewed six candidates. After further interviews, three candidates were submitted in terms of Eskom's memorandum of incorporation with the government.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a team of cabinet ministers to consider the recommendations, who confirmed the appointment.

De Ruyter will be judged on his interventions in this important utility.

In the case of Steenhuisen, his election followed the review of the party's electoral fortunes, accepted in principle by the Federal Council (which is highly racially diverse).

It is an interim position aimed at bringing stability and a unified purpose to a party that found itself having to answer for mixed messaging and electoral failure. Similarly, Steenhuisen will be judged by his impact on the 2021 municipal elections, assuming he stands and wins at the upcoming DA congress.

Of course, the DA needs to win South African voters, from those who withheld their votes, those who switched allegiance, and new voters of all hues. Tony Leon and Helen Zille's track record, a white male and female, were responsible for growing the party exponentially across all races. By comparison black and white votes shrunk under Maimane.

Thereafter, Maimane chose to resign along with three other white men, following the recommendations of the damning Review which he instituted, agreed to the terms of
reference, and appointed its authors.

Redress, transformation and inequality were after thoughts when he decided he was unwilling to be a backbencher and argue his corner from within the party. He applauded the maverick Mashaba, who had never really subscribed to the DA, in his trashing of the party. And hot on the heels of that spectacle, he resigned from his position and party.

Redress, transformation and inequality aside, the inescapable fact is that it is prosperity that needs to be championed, the rising tide of which will lift all ships. Poverty will thus be addressed and aspirations fired up.

To succeed at the helm of Eskom or the DA requires an appeal to rational incentives and precepts. Data needs to underpin a proven ability to lead. It has nothing to do with race.

*Cachalia is a DA MP and its spokesperson in the portfolio committee on public enterprises

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