Former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko said his dismissal, which was partly driven by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, resulted in a new spate of load-shedding in South Africa which cost the economy R266 billion.
This was part of the testimony of Koko at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, better known as the Zondo Commission.
Koko told the commission that Eskom performed extremely well when he was chief generation officer under former CEO Brian Molefe.
During this period, which he referred to as the Molefe-Koko era, Eskom produced its best performance for two decades with all KPIs improving.
There was no load-shedding in 2016 and 2017 and he reduced the diesel spend in one year from R12.5 billion to R200 million.
“To burn diesel during these times to keep the lights on is sheer incompetence,” Koko told the Zondo commission.
He even took a jibe at the current Eskom leadership, highlighting that the power producer is currently spending R7.5 billion a year on diesel.
Koko said his focus at Eskom was to meet the electricity demand of its customers without burning diesel.
“I was brutal when necessary to ensure the cost to produce the required energy [coal, diesel, and IPP] was kept low,” he said.
According to Koko, coal costs at Eskom increased rapidly over the last 15 years, with one exception – during the Molefe-Koko years.
Some experts argued that Koko achieved his impressive performance by not doing the necessary maintenance, but Koko dismissed this claim.
He provided evidence that there was more maintenance done at Eskom during the Molefe-Koko leadership than ever before.
“When history is written, it will absolve us. Molefe and Koko showed the best performance at Eskom since 2001,” he said.
The firing of Koko
Koko recalled the day – On 21 January 2018 – when he received a call from a former colleague and then deputy director-general for public enterprises informing him that he will be fired.
Shortly after this call, Ramaphosa issued a statement that a new Eskom board has been appointed and that Koko was dismissed with immediate effect.
Koko told the commission his dismissal was curious and unlawful.
“We ended up in the labour court, which found the decision by the deputy president was unlawful,” he said.
Koko linked Ramaphosa’s decision to fire him to the business dealings between Optimum Mine and Eskom.
Ramaphosa was the former chair of Optimum Mine, a company which owed Eskom R1.4 billion in penalties.
Koko said he was trying to recover these fees from Optimum, which was likely the motivation behind Ramaphosa’s decision.
He said before this “very famous call”, Eskom was doing well and there was no load shedding. Shortly afterwards, however, load-shedding returned.
“The consequences of the decision to dismiss me caused devastating load-shedding in 2018, 2019, and 2020,” Koko said.
He highlighted that the cost of load-shedding to the economy over the past three years were estimated by the CSIR to be R266 billion.
“That is the cost of the call which I received in January 2018,” Koko said.