Outrage as UCT invites ex-Eskom CEO Matshela Koko to lecture on ethics, sparking public and civic uproar

Former Eskom executive Matshela Koko. Picture: Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA)

Former Eskom executive Matshela Koko. Picture: Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 6, 2024


The University of Cape Town (UCT) has come under fire amid a letter from the civic organisation, Public Interest SA, to the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Daya Reddy, to reverse an "error" in inviting former Eskom CEO, Matshela Koko, to lecture students on Ethics and Professionalism.

The Inquiry into State Capture, led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, concluded that Koko engaged in dishonesty, crafted statements with the intention to deceive, and refuted any occurrence of state capture at Eskom.

The investigation identified Koko as a crucial element in the Gupta family's scheme to take control of Eskom.

Koko has refuted some of the findings made against him by the State Capture Inquiry and has taken legal action for it to be set aside.

"Public Interest SA has taken swift action in response to this concerning development. We have written a letter to UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Reddy, requesting that UCT take immediate steps to rectify this error in judgment," the non-profit organisation said in a statement.

However, UCT has since clarified that it does not endorse him and that the lecture was part of a case study to deal with ethical issues.

“Students in a fourth-year course had been assigned the task of writing an opinion piece on Mr Koko’s term as acting Eskom CEO, using all information available in the public domain, as part of a case study on ethics and professionalism,” Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy, interim UCT vice-chancellor said in a statement.

“Following completion of their assignments, Mr Koko was invited to address the class and participate in a discussion centred on their assignment topic.

“The lecturer for this course invites around five or six guests each year, often senior individuals in industry or political leaders. Such practice is not uncommon in courses located in one or other of the professional degree programmes. In addition, such engagements provide a space for contestation of sometimes varying ideas, and seek to hone students’ ability to reason critically, to act ethically, and to judge professionally,” Reddy said.

“Following Mr Koko’s presentation and discussion, students were asked to submit a critical reflection on their own investigation in relation to his contribution.

“Media reports referring to Mr Koko having been invited to lecture students on ethics and professionalism are therefore incorrect, and highly misleading.

“Mr Koko has not been ‘endorsed’ by the department concerned, much less by the university,” Reddy said.

The former Eskom CEO’s invitation has elicited mixed emotions among social media users, with some saying he does not know anything about ethics.

Koko is a qualified engineer who studied BSc Chemical Engineering at UCT. He joined Eskom after graduation in September 1996, where he first worked at the Duvha power plant in Mpumalanga as a trainee.

In 2016, the then Public Enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown, appointed Koko as the acting CEO of Eskom, after he had occupied various senior roles at the power utility.

He made headlines in October 2022 after coming under scrutiny for his role in state capture during the Zondo Commission hearings.

According to Public Interest SA, the decision to invite Koko to lecture students at UCT undermined the principles of ethical leadership and academic integrity, and also jeopardised efforts to combat corruption in South Africa.

"Koko's tenure at Eskom was marked by allegations of corruption and malfeasance, including his close association with the Gupta family and his involvement in various procurement irregularities.

His invitation to lecture on ethics and professionalism sends a dangerous message that individuals implicated in corruption can be rehabilitated and given a platform to influence young minds," it said.

Furthermore, Public Interest SA called on the university to review its policies regarding guest lecturers and ensure that future invitations are extended to individuals who exemplify the values of integrity, transparency, and ethical leadership.

"As a progressive institution of higher learning, UCT has a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct. By providing a platform to Koko, the university is complicit in normalising unethical behaviour and undermining our national anti-corruption strategy," it said.

Responding to Public Interest SA on X, Koko said, “This is going to come to an end. South Africans are not fools.”

Meanwhile, some X users (formerly twitter) were not impressed by the invitation and others expressed disappointment in the university.

“Hilarious…. but also speaks volumes about the calibre of the “ lecturer” who invited Koko to speak… UCT transformation at any costs UCT invites 'Gupta agent' Matshela Koko to lecture students on 'ethics and professionalism',” @morrow_nw said.

“You couldn’t make it up: my old university in Cape Town invited this man - deeply implicated in corruption - to lecture on “ethics and professionalism”,” @martinplaut said.


— McDuff (@McDuff_ZA) March 5, 2024

While others who supported UCT's decision:

“As I switch on my TV boom, Stephen Grootes & his guests are having a meltdown about Matshela Koko's invite to UCT, they forgot that Zondo commission was not a court of law,even the terms of reference of that commission were clear kuhle kwezinqa zesele,Koko is presumed innocent,” @Azania_Umoja.

— MD (@Azania_Umoja) March 5, 2024

“So, exposing state capture gets you pushed out of @UCT_news but participating in state capture gets you invited to lecture on ethics. How tragic,” @athol_williams said.

* This article has been updated with additional comment from UCT.

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