The problem with spin is that you cannot change facts retrospectively. Worse still, spin fails when you change your messaging midstream.
Eskom and their spin machinery are going to learn this rather painfully throughout this weekend – and presumably after a litany of court challenges.
So we woke up to the news on Friday that former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe will be back in office on Monday nearly five months since he resigned.
This decision we are told was taken by the Eskom’s board to rescind Molefe’s application for early retirement, because it could not agree with him, “on a mutually beneficial pension proposal”.
Well let’s go back to last year to establish incontrovertible facts. On November 11, 2016, Molefe called a press conference where he announced his resignation.
In his own words he said: “I have, in the interests of good governance, decided to leave my employ at Eskom from 1 January 2017. I do so voluntarily indeed… I wish to reiterate that this act is not an admission of wrongdoing on my part. It is rather what I feel to be the correct thing to do in the interests of the company and good corporate governance.”
This statement was subsequently followed up by another from the board which read in part: “We confirm that Mr Molefe has tendered his resignation with effect from 1st of January 2017. The board has accepted has accepted his resignation, though difficult…”
I am not so concerned about the change of wording from “resignation” to “early retirement”. That for me is semantics. What I am concerned about is Eskom presenting this reappointment as though Molefe was on sabbatical.
He wasn’t. He resigned. They accepted his resignation. He even took a new job as a member of parliament. It meant the post of CE at Eskom was vacant. Any appointment in that post, would have to be after a new recruitment process.
But as if retrospective spin was not bad enough, Eskom later changed its messaging, on the same day.
After realising that the public was not buying the spin from the company’s spokesperson, Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane issued a new statement saying he was “absolutely delighted” to have Molefe back.
He continued: “We are facing serious problems. None of our applications for coal purchases had been approved by the Treasury. We need that skill that saved us last time. When he came here‚ Eskom was on the brink of collapse. The previous chief executive had spoken about blackouts. There was a stage when they told the minister that Eskom might not be able to pay salaries‚” Ngubane he told Business Report.
“In terms of our fiduciary responsibility‚ we had no alternative other than to bring (Molefe) back to help us‚” said Ngubane.
No. No. No. It is either he is coming back because you could not agree on a separation package or because you need him to save Eskom from sinking.
Hours after Ngubane’s statement, Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown, in her responsibility as shareholder representative, answering media queries, refuted Ngubane’s statement by saying Eskom is in good financial standing.
Who’s fooling who? Someone is lying.
I do not even want to comment on the veracity of Ngubane’s words. I just cannot believe that this is a strategy adopted by a board aided by a communication team and possibly (I should say definitely) with the help of external consultants.
I do not have a view about the Public Protector’s Sate of Capture report. I also do not doubt Molefe’s competence and abilities. He probably is the best Eskom deserves.
But if you are going pick a line (or a lie) stick to your story. Repeat it ad nauseam. This is a basic rule in spin.
You cannot change your line midstream. That normally points to untruthfulness.