12/05/2017 12:26 BST | Updated 12/05/2017 12:31 BST

Molefe’s Return Reveals Zuma Has Gone Rogue

Is the president acting without the mandate and authority of his party?

Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images
CEO Brian Molefe shows President Jacob Zuma around Eskom's headquarters at Megawatt Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 6, 2016.

The rapid rescission of the resignation of Eskom CEO Brian Molefe is another example of President Jacob Zuma going rogue on the governing party he heads.

Molefe's shock reinstatement by Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane (who is close to the president), as well as the axing of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, has raised the ire of ANC leadership.

While the ANC has subsequently raised a wall of unity around the reshuffle, three of the party's top six executives spoke out publicly against it at the beginning of April. Now the party has gone public on its opposition to Molefe's reappointment.

"The African National Congress condemns the unfortunate and reckless decision taken by the Board of Directors of Eskom to reinstate Mr Brian Molefe as Chief Executive Officer of the energy utility," said the governing party in an unusually strong-worded statement.

Molefe was widely touted as Zuma's choice for finance minister and his return to Eskom reveals the tension at the top of the South African polity because the president obviously made a compromise choice in Malusi Gigaba, who now holds the finance mantle.

Zuma could not leave Molefe marooned on the parliamentary back benches and Ngubane has now helped engineer his return to Eskom. The state-owned utility is at the centre of two vital instances of alleged state capture.

Eskom is one of the biggest markets for coal and the Gupta family is establishing a coal empire through its purchase of Glencore's Optimum mine, which Tegeta now owns. Tegeta has been shown to receive favoured status by Eskom, both by being prepaid for coal and in the contracts the company has secured.

Eskom is also the contracting authority for any nuclear plant procurement. While the first proposals for nuclear were nixed by the courts two weeks ago, the president has said the country will still go ahead with a procurement.

Molefe's proximity to the Gupta family is well-canvassed in the public protector's State of Capture report, as well as in reports of how Eskom and Transnet (where he was previously CEO) supported the family's media interests by sponsoring its broadcast breakfasts that cost R1-million a pop.

Ngubane told Business Report that Molefe would be instrumental in unblocking coal contracts. "None of our applications for coal puchases had been approved by the Treasury. We need that skill that saved us the last time," Ngubane told the Business Report.

The ANC had a different view.

"Mr Molefe left Eskom under a cloud following the release of the public protector's report into state capture late last year. The report, while still under review, made observations against Mr Molefe which, at the time, he had deemed serious and significant enough to warrant his resignation.

"None of the observations against Mr Molefe, so significant at the time, have been conclusively set aside and Mr Molefe's own commitment to fully clear his name is still pending," said the ANC.

Molefe is an ANC member and he is now between the rock of his party and the hard place of his president.