South African cabinet ministers on Wednesday ceded to pressure from senior politicians and the public by dismissing the head of state power utility Eskom, Brian Molefe, an ally of President Jacob Zuma who has been accused of mismanagement.
Opposition parties and some members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) heavily criticized the decision to reinstate Molefe two weeks ago, given he resigned last year amid allegations of graft in the award of Eskom contracts.
Molefe denies any wrongdoing and said he resigned in the interest of good governance and stability.
An inter-ministerial committee said it was “in the best interests of government, Eskom and the country” for Eskom to rescind the decision to bring back Molefe. An interim chief executive officer would be chosen within 48 hours, it said.
Molefe’s reinstatement opened up an increasingly bitter divide within the ANC ahead of a conference in December when a successor to Zuma as party president will be chosen. Zuma can remain as head of state until elections in 2019.
Zuma’s camp is expected to back his ex-wife and former African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, while another ANC faction will support Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The u-turn on Molefe’s Eskom appointment demonstrates that Zuma is capable of listening to dissent from within the party,” said Augustine Booth-Clibborn, analyst at Africa Risk Consulting.
“However, it may also inspire a greater push against him as his enemies within and outside the ANC sense the president’s hand can be forced.”
Molefe resigned in November after a report by the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated corruption watchdog, raised questions over Eskom coal deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Zuma and the Gupta family deny wrongdoing.
The report also raised concerns about ties between Eskom, Molefe and the Gupta family, wealthy businessmen and friends of Zuma who government ministers have accused of wielding undue influence over government appointments and public tenders.
Zuma’s opponents say Molefe’s return was an attempt to control the large tenders handled by Eskom and called for a full parliamentary investigation.
“The announcement today shows that governance at Eskom has crumbled,” said Natasha Mazzone, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow public enterprises minister.
“Only a full-scale parliamentary inquiry has the capacity to get to the bottom of the rot.”
With additional reporting by Ed Stoddard, writing by Joe Brock, and editing by Stephen Powell.