Will the lights go out on South Africa's World Cup?

A race row at the top of the national power company has left it without a leader

An ugly race row has left South Africa's national power company leaderless and is threatening to turn the lights out in the country only nine months before it is due to host the World Cup.

Bobby Godsell, the chairman of Eskom, which generates 95 per cent of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy, resigned this week after being accused of trying to force out his black chief executive.

The power struggle comes as experts warn that South Africa faces another season of blackouts that have prompted national emergencies in the past two years. It also highlights the crisis of leadership in Jacob Zuma's new government, which is being accused of appeasing "racial populists" as it seeks to contain strongly divergent voices within the ruling ANC party.

The saga at Eskom began last week when the two rivals – Mr Godsell and the CEO Jacob Maroga – laid out competing visions for the troubled state-owned power generator. Analysts said the chairman's plan concentrated on a business-like agenda of opening new power stations and restoring industry confidence, while the chief executive's programme concentrated on re-engineering the ethnic balance of the company's workforce. The board is believed to have sided with Mr Godsell, prompting the resignation of the chief executive, announced late last week.

What had, up to that point, been a business story suddenly exploded into a race row as the outspoken ANC youth-wing leader Julius Malema accused Eskom of pushing out Mr Maroga because he was black. The Black Management Forum, a national lobbying group, then issued an incendiary statement saying state-owned corporations were becoming a "slaughterhouse" for black professionals.

After the race furore Mr Maroga quickly moved to rescind his resignation, and then, over the weekend, both men were reported to have met with President Zuma. On Monday, in a move that rocked markets, the respected Mr Godsell tendered his resignation, leaving Eskom without a chairman.

"This is a complete disaster," said Professor Adam Habib, a political commentator based at the University of Johannesburg. "We have a major leadership tussle in the middle of an energy crisis. It's really irresponsible."

That energy crisis has already prompted concern within world football's governing body, Fifa, which has demanded the provision of an army of back-up generators to avoid the possibility of the lights going off during its global showpiece tournament.

Organisers of the 2010 event faced another setback yesterday as an important transport project was delayed and is now not expected to be ready in time for the June kick-off. The ambitious "Gautrain project" – linking Johannesburg and its airport with the capital, Pretoria – will not be finished until halfway through the tournament after the government refused to bow to contractors' demands for an extra £107m to meet the deadline.

South Africa is already in talks with industry leaders over a "go-slow" during the World Cup in order to ensure that the power needs of the event can be met. Marc Goldstein, an analyst with research group Frost and Sullivan, said that investor confidence would be shaken by Mr Godsell's departure. "This is not a situation that anyone would have wanted," he said.

Yesterday, the ANC's secretary general Gwede Mantashe rubbished claims that Mr Godsell is a racist, describing him as popular within the unions and the ANC. "Everybody must be careful. If there's a crisis, they begin to be personal and go to the lowest level of irrationality," he said.

The race card has quickly led to another debate on South Africa's troubled Black Economic Empowerment initiative – conceived to address the wrongs of the apartheid era but accused of being a wellspring of cronyism. "Black economic empowerment is essential," said the former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein. " But the way it has been done is an unmitigated disaster."

In recent months the government has lurched from one crisis to another in its state-owned enterprises, or "parastatals", with rows over political interference and mismanagement in the transport giant Transnet and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

"The parastatals' woe reflects the broader picture of what's happening in government," said Mr Feinstein. "Zuma's desire to keep everybody happy means he is not leading."

So far the government has refused to comment on its alleged role in the leadership battle at Eskom but, if the board did accept the CEO's resignation, then only high-level political intervention can have overturned that decision, Professor Habib explained. "For God's sake, how does one government have crises in three parastatals at the same time?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
news
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Buyer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company are currently re...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor