Eskom stalwart Brian Dames faces a baptism of fire after his appointment as chief executive of the power utility was announced on Tuesday 16 June 2010.
The most burning issue is a possible strike by Eskom workers that threatens to embarrass South Africa during the World Cup. Although a pressing matter, the labour dispute presents Dames with less of a headache than finding solutions to a funding gap expected to peak at R115 billion in the next few years. This is inhibiting the state-owned enterprise’s R460bn-plus plan to expand generating capacity.
Dames is well acquainted with the funding issue, both as head of Eskom’s generating division and as leader of a recent delegation to Europe and the US, to canvass investor appetite for the utility’s R142bn Kusile coal-fired power station.
Also on Tuesday, Eskom confirmed the permanent appointment of acting chairman Mpho Makwana, who has played a central role in stabilising the utility in the leadership vacuum following the twin departures of chief executive Jacob Maroga and chairman Bobby Godsell last year.
Makwana said in a statement that Dames’ appointment "now completes the leadership team that will take Eskom further into a new era". It follows the appointment of Paul O’Flaherty as finance director earlier this year.
Zwelinzima Vavi, the president of Cosatu, whose affiliate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) may strike if the wage dispute is not resolved, said yesterday he had no comment on the appointment of Dames specifically.
When Maroga left Eskom under a cloud in November last year, Vavi was among the union leaders who defended Maroga nemesis Bobby Godsell. The government mismanagement of Maroga’s on-off resignation led Godsell to quit as chairman.
Vavi was pleased that the government was making progress at "sorting out all these headless chickens" by filling vacant positions at the helm of state-owned enterprises. "I hear there is also good progress in respect to Transnet," he said.
Contacted yesterday, Dames, 44, said he would make time available for interviews today. "Right now I’m going to enjoy the soccer and make sure the World Cup is successful."
The strike is also certain to be on his agenda today as wage negotiations are expected to resume after Eskom asked for time to consult its executive management.
Unions are demanding a 15 percent pay increase plus housing allowances but Eskom would offer only 7 percent.
The NUM has applied for a certificate of non-resolution that could pave the way for a strike, while Solidarity has declared a dispute.
In Dames’ favour is his good standing among unions. Frans Baleni, the NUM general secretary, welcomed Dames’ appointment: "Brian has been at Eskom a long time, he understands the organisation and is very capable technically. We congratulate him."
Dames, who is reportedly well-liked within Eskom, joined the utility in 1987 as a graduate in training. A physicist, he has been at the helm of Eskom’s nuclear division and the Matimba power station.
All legal impediments to Dames’ appointment were cleared last month when Maroga’s High Court bid to prevent a new chief executive from assuming office was set aside. Maroga is seeking compensation of nearly R90 million, citing unfair dismissal.