Lam­berti quits Eskom af­ter racial slur

Says judg­ment did not in­di­cate dis­crim­i­na­tion

The Sunday Independent - - News - SIYABONGA MKHWANAZI AND KARABO NGOEPE

AF­TER re­lent­less pres­sure from po­lit­i­cal par­ties and other groups, Eskom board mem­ber Mark Lam­berti fi­nally quit yesterday. Lam­berti, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Im­pe­rial, had been in the job for four months when al­le­ga­tions of racism and sex­ism emerged. Last month a High Court de­ci­sion dealt a blow to his stay on the board.

His res­ig­na­tion from the Eskom board came a day af­ter he wrote to Im­pe­rial staff deny­ing that he in­tended harm when he re­ferred to for­mer em­ployee and ac­coun­tant Adila Chowan as a “fe­male em­ploy­ment eq­uity” can­di­date.

Lam­berti had de­nied racism al­le­ga­tions when he took the job to serve on the Eskom board in Jan­uary fol­low­ing sweep­ing changes at the power util­ity. He re­peated this in his let­ter to Public En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han and Eskom chair­per­son Jabu Mabuza.

The EFF had also wanted Ramaphosa to re­move an­other board mem­ber, Sifiso Dabengwa, be­cause he was close to the pres­i­dent.

Ramaphosa ad­mit­ted in Par­lia­ment last month he knew Dabengwa but he was not a busi­ness as­so­ciate of the for­mer MTN boss as al­leged by the EFF.

In Lam­berti’s let­ter of res­ig­na­tion that was ac­cepted by Gord­han, he in­di­cated that his de­ci­sion was mo­ti­vated by the court judg­ment de­liv­ered on March 23 and he did so in the best in­ter­ests of the coun­try.

“This de­ci­sion is mo­ti­vated by my fidu­ciary duty to Eskom and my con­sis­tent and proven record of act­ing in­so­far as pos­si­ble in the best in­ter­ests of South Africa. The back­ground to the High Court judg­ment handed down on March 23 was ex­pounded on fully in my let­ter of April 2, 2018, to the Eskom chair­per­son.

“It is es­sen­tial to em­pha­sise that while mis­takes were made and there are im­por­tant lessons to be learnt, there were no find­ings in the judg­ment of race or gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion against AMH, Im­pe­rial or my­self,” he said.

Lam­berti, along with As­so­ci­ated Mo­tor Hold­ings, was ac­cused by Chowan of race and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. She left the com­pany in 2015 and claimed that Lam­berti re­ferred to her as a “fe­male em­ploy­ment eq­uity” in front of other man­agers.

De­spite the court judg­ment, he main­tained that he was not found guilty of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Lam­berti said there has been a main­stream and so­cial me­dia frenzy of gen­er­ally in­ac­cu­rate com­men­tary. He said that was be­ing fu­elled by a po­lit­i­cal agenda and legally in­cor­rect in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the judg­ment, which have cul­mi­nated in the most vit­ri­olic defama­tion of his char­ac­ter.

“The most telling as­pect of this is the call for the min­is­ter and in­deed the pres­i­dent to re­move me from the Eskom board. Th­ese de­vel­op­ments and the threat­ened re­tal­ia­tory ac­tions have reached a point where they may im­pinge on the ten­ta­tive but es­sen­tial progress of Eskom. My fidu­ciary duty to the com­pany forces me to pre­vent this in­so­far as I can by re­sign­ing.

“At a more mo­men­tous level, the mat­ter could di­vert the im­ple­men­ta­tion and progress of the pres­i­dent’s es­poused vi­sion and the sup­port­ing plans of the min­is­ter. As one who be­lieves that Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa is uniquely qual­i­fied to unite gov­ern­ment, labour, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety be­hind an in­clu­sive growth agenda, my duty as a pa­triot is sim­i­larly to fa­cil­i­tate his progress by re­sign­ing,” Lam­berti said.

He has fur­ther added that he would not be ac­cept­ing any com­pen­sa­tion for the work he has done for Eskom so far. He has vowed to re­turn the pay­ments he has since re­ceived from the power util­ity.

“Given that al­most all of the board work to date was prepara­tory, I can­not in good con­science ac­cept any com­pen­sa­tion and the fees paid to date will be re­turned to the com­pany. In con­clu­sion, it is an un­der­state­ment to say that this mat­ter has been dev­as­tat­ing to me and my fam­ily. A life­time of a clear con­science and a distin­guished record of busi­ness lead­er­ship ap­pear to have been in vain. My fer­vent hope is that the ‘next third’ of my life will present op­por­tu­ni­ties to serve my coun­try in a ca­pac­ity as val­ued as my Eskom di­rec­tor­ship was,” he said.

Gord­han said Lam­berti must be com­mended for tak­ing the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to put the in­ter­ests of Eskom, the board and the coun­try above all else.

Mark Lam­berti was ac­cused of race and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion by a fe­male em­ployee.

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