On July 19 Eskom CEO Brian Molefe started the utility’s State-of-the-System briefing by issuing an apology.
He apologised to EE Publishers managing editor Chris Yelland for the threats he had made a week earlier at the announcement of Eskom’s annual financial results.
This was the last in a series of personal attacks Molefe has made on Yelland. The latest attack hit the hardest though.
In addressing the media Molefe gave a summary of Eskom’s improved financial results and stated that there had not been any load shedding for the previous ten months.
He then continued: “ . . . Mr Yelland, despite the fact that last year about this time, you said there would be more load shedding. I was prepared to forgive you, Mr Yelland, until you called the failure of a few substations and transformers ‘load shedding’ a few weeks ago.”
Molefe then said: “In a normal society, in a normal democracy, I think people would have demanded the closure of EE Publishers, as in fact I do. I think this is going to be my new campaign, because experts who call problems at a distribution level, problems with a few transformers ‘load shedding’, should not be believed at all.”
During the question and answer session at the end of the briefing Yelland told Molefe that he feels intimidated and threatened when he hears the Eskom CEO make it his mission to close his publishing house. Molefe responded by saying his son is part of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. “People want Hlaudi (Motsoeneng, SABC COO) to resign, people want the president to resign. He then said: “I can also have my campaign of EE Publishers and I don’t think it is illegal and if it is, go to Sandton police station!”
Molefe often responds during media briefings to public criticism of Eskom. Since taking the helm at the utility in April last year, he has taken aim at the likes of Outa’s Ted Blom and IPP consultant Doug Kuni.
However the most vicious attacks he saved for Yelland.
His irritation with Yelland started after the editor’s presentation during a hearing of national energy regulator (Nersa) in June last year about a selective Eskom tariff re-opener.
Yelland revealed some information Molefe had shared with editors and selected senior journalists during an earlier briefing shortly after his move to Eskom. Utility spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe at the time said it was held under Chatham House rules.
This usually means that those present may report information disclosed during a meeting, but the source of that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified.
Eskom felt very strongly that Yelland was in breach of the “gentlemen’s agreement” and said so in a letter addressed to him. Yelland denies any breach of confidentiality and offered to resolve the matter through the Press Ombudsman.
That was however not the end of it. EE Publishers seemingly fell off the Eskom mailing list and henceforth did not receive any media releases or invitations from Eskom.
Yelland considered this a form blacklisting and addressed the issue with Phasiwe who consistently denied this. It took EE Publishers nine months to get back on the Eskom mailing list.
In the meantime Molefe continued with frequent attacks on Yelland from the podium during media briefings. He reacted strongly when Yelland, who frequently comments on other media platforms on matters relating to Eskom, voiced the opinion that it was declining demand, more than improved efficiency at Eskom, that put an end to manual rotational load shedding.
The recent spat was about Yelland’s public statements about consumers experiencing frequent power cuts, which he described as a different kind of load shedding.
Yelland says: “Eskom defines load shedding narrowly as manual rotational load shedding and gets very angry with me for suggesting that in the broader definition of load shedding, namely the shedding of load to protect the system, load shedding in different forms still continues.”
It is really all about terminology, since Eskom acknowledges problems at distribution level that result in power failures and has a programme to address it.
When apologising to Yelland last week, Molefe indicated that Phasiwe took him to task for threatening Yelland the way he did. He did not sound very repentant, though, of his own volition.
The further irony was that Yelland was not present in the audience – because again he did not get the invitation from Eskom.
He in fact believes he has been blacklisted again.
Phasiwe told Moneyweb it was a mere administrative oversight and gave the assurance that the Eskom media desk has no problem with Yelland and EE Publishers.
Yelland says he has on numerous occasions asked for an appointment with Molefe to discuss and resolve any issues the CEO may have with him, but none has been granted so far.
“I found Mr Molefe’s threats to be intimidating and frightening,” Yelland says.
He says from his side “the issues between Mr Molefe and myself are trivial and inconsequential and I must not be distracted from the important real issues in the energy sector. Mr Molefe on the other hand seems determined to personalise things, perhaps in order to deflect attention from the real issues.”
Yelland says neither Eskom nor Molefe has contacted him directly to convey the apology which he learnt about from other journalists.
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