Eskom was named the 2019 National Press Club Newsmaker of the Year.
This annual award, made by the National Press Club since 1980, awards a
newsmaker in a calendar year based on the amount of media coverage received
as well as the impact thereof. Nominations and motivations are received from
members of the National Press Club and a final decision is made by the
executive committee of the club. The National Press Club is the largest club
of its kind in South Africa, representing working journalists.
“The newsmaker award is neither an accolade nor is it criticism – it
represents the dominant themes of the 2019 news cycle,” club chairperson
Ntando Makhubu says.
“The decision to name Eskom as the newsmaker was an easy one”
During 2019 South Africa was subjected to unprecedented levels of load
shedding that resulted in uncertainty whether the power utility’s leadership
will be able to turn the ship around. Speculation was rife of unhealthy
political interference and leadership changes followed that have not only
gripped the count’s attention, but also undermined investor confidence.
“The decision to name Eskom as the newsmaker was an easy one as there is no
denying the fact that the power utility’s inability to keep the lights on,
has negatively impacted both the small and big businesses which has resulted
in more retrenchments in an already ailing economy,” says Makhubu.
The public frustration on the power utility’s inability to ensure power
security dominated not only traditional news channels but also online and
social media platforms.
When the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, took over with the
promise of being more hands-on at Eskom, the public had high hopes that
Eskom will be stabilised. However, what followed was the resignation of
Phakamani Hadebe from his role as the Group Chief Executive after a short
stint, and allegations from one of the board members at parliament only
political interference prevented load shedding for at least eight months.
Minister Gordhan denied that and went on to present his unbundling plan
which was met with mixed reactions from various sectors of society and the
The term of Jabu Mabuza, who double-hatted as both the Chairman of the Eskom
board and the Acting Chief Executive, was not without any controversy with
allegations of conflict of interest due to links with service providers. He
subsequently resigned from all his Eskom roles early this year for failing
to keep the lights on despite the President of the Republic having assured
the country that there will be no load shedding until the middle of January
While all of this instability continues to affect all stakeholders, the
public interest in alternative sources of power supply grows daily. The
public further demands accountability and consequence management as Eskom
continues to apply for more financial bailouts from government and an
increase in tariffs.
“All eyes are on Andre de Ruyter as he takes over the reins at Eskom. He has
started possibly the toughest job in the country with earnings that are far
exceeded by its debt repayments. There is a huge expectation on him to turn
the power utility around in terms of its efficiency in keeping the lights on
while also managing the operational costs,” Makhubu says.
The National Press Club is synonymous with the Newsmaker of the Year award.
Over the years the club has recognised many newsmakers. Previous recipients
include President Jacob Zuma, former presidents Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk
and Thabo Mbeki and Hollywood star Charlize Theron, #FeesMustFall and the
Gupta Leaks. Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa was named the Newsmaker of
the Year and Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, accepted the award
on his behalf.
Makhubu also said a special mention should be given to the Springbok rugby
team, a strong contender for the 2019 Newsmaker of the Year.
The annual Newsmaker of the Year function is expected to take place in
Pretoria, in April 2020.