Spot­light on Eskom chair

The Citizen (KZN) - - Opinion - Wil­liam Saun­der­son-Meyer Jaun­diced Eye

In­terim Eskom chair Male­ga­puru Mak­goba’s past can­not fairly be de­scribed as in­fa­mous. But it has been con­tro­ver­sial.

Artist Andy Warhol fore­told a world where we would each en­joy 15 min­utes of fame be­fore sink­ing back into ob­scu­rity. Our politi­cians and public fig­ures have in­verted this. Each has 15 min­utes of in­famy. Then their lives of priv­i­lege con­tinue as if noth­ing hap­pened.

In­terim Eskom chair Male­ga­puru Mak­goba’s past can­not fairly be de­scribed as in­fa­mous. But it has been con­tro­ver­sial.

Af­ter all, how many pre­vi­ous ap­pointees can boast that they van­quished their foes by smear­ing them­selves daily from head to toe in lion fat, so as to chan­nel the power of the an­ces­tors? This, said Mak­goba in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, was his se­cret weapon against some Wits Univer­sity aca­demics who in 1995 dared chal­lenge his ap­point­ment as deputy vice-chan­cel­lor, al­leg­ing mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion, bring­ing the univer­sity into dis­re­pute and ex­ag­ger­a­tions in his cur­ricu­lum vi­tae.

Mak­goba, in turn, ac­cused his crit­ics of racism and cor­rup­tion, re­fer­ring to them as “mon­keys” that he would “tame”. An in­quiry ex­on­er­ated the aca­demics and Mak­goba – a highly re­garded im­mu­nol­o­gist – re­signed to join the Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, where he soon be­came pres­i­dent.

This was dur­ing pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s Aids de­nial­ism but Mak­goba was one of few black voices to con­tra­dict the syco­phants cheer­ing Mbeki’s con­spir­a­to­rial fan­tasies.

Mbeki and his acolytes were quick to take re­venge. Mak­goba was ac­cused of be­ing a stooge of whites. No small sur­prise that when the vice-chan­cel­lor­ship of the Univer­sity of

KwaZulu-Na­tal (UKZN) be­came va­cant in 2002, Mak­goba re­turned to academia.

At UKZN, Mak­goba’s an­tipa­thy to whites and In­di­ans led to a steady exit of top aca­demics. Em­broi­der­ing the ear­lier pri­mate anal­ogy, Mak­goba de­scribed white males as “de­throned al­pha male ba­boons or bono­bos” who should, in­stead of re­sist­ing trans­for­ma­tion, “learn kwaito, dance like Lebo, [and] dress like Madiba.”

Mak­goba was ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, vic­tim­i­sa­tion and pla­gia­rism, al­though never found guilty.

He also backed Ja­cob Zuma against Mbeki. In 2008, he de­scribed Mbeki as a “clas­sic dic­ta­tor”. And Zuma was “one of the great­est African lead­ers”. In 2016, Zuma ap­pointed his praise singer as our first Health Om­bud. Won­der­fully, Mak­goba didn’t hes­i­tate to bite the hand that fed him.

Just eight months into of­fice, he was tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Life Esidi­meni tragedy, in which 143 men­tal health pa­tients died. Mak­goba was un­spar­ing in his as­sess­ment of the Gaut­eng health depart­ment’s fail­ures.

Mak­goba is one of the most com­pli­cated fig­ures in our public life. He is SA’s very own Jekyll and Hyde: one mo­ment venge­ful and abu­sive, the next, dogged and coura­geous.

The FF+ op­posed his Eskom ap­point­ment be­cause Mak­goba’s “knowl­edge and tal­ents are of im­mea­sur­able value” to the health sec­tor.

One won­ders what Mak­goba will make of ful­some praise from such an un­likely quar­ter. Since he is not known for modesty, per­haps he will just see this as his due.

Or, al­ter­na­tively, he may judge it to be en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate adap­tive be­hav­iour from those de­throned al­pha-male bono­bos.

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