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Three tips for surviving a high-pressure job – from the man who held one of the most stressful positions in South Africa

Business Insider SA
Khulu Phasiwe, Eskom, Resigned
Eskom former spokesperson, Khulu Phisiwe looks forward to spending more time with his children and watching his favourite sport uninterrupted
  • After 10 years at the state-owned entity - and five years as its spokesperson - Eskom's Khulu Phasiwe resigned earlier this month.
  • He wants to take time to recover and spend more time with his family.
  • He gives us three tips on how he survived one of the the most stressful jobs in the country.
  • For more articles, go to Business Insider SA.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe has some experience in coping with a massively stressful job.

For the past five years, he has been facing the nation's wrath as the embattled utility lurched from one crisis to the next, including rolling blackouts over recent months which Phasiwe would announce via his Twitter account.

He never lost his cool during interviews, despite a constant media barrage and remained accessible throughout the many crises.

But the death of UCT professor and cardiologist, Dr Bongani Mayosi and articles by  journalists Qaanitha Hunter and Sabelo Skiti about the work-related mental challenges they faced, convinced him to resign. 

He told Business Insider that he decided to leave Eskom to preserve his mental health. “You have to take it easy - you can lose your mind and your life,” Phasiwe said. After five years in the hot seat, with very little rest, he "just felt that this was the time to take a time-out and catch up with my children”.

Khulu Phasiwe, Eskom, Resigned
Khulu Phasiwe has stepped down as Eskom spokesperson in order to rest and recover after 10 years at the company.

Phasiwe, who started his career as a journalist at Business Day, joined Eskom more than a decade ago. When the previous spokesperson left, he didn’t apply for the position - but was appointed anyway. Over the years he has earned grudging respect for how he dealt with the demands and pressures of the job.

Phasiwe says three things have stood him in good stead:

Read, read and read

Phasiwe spends most of his time reading. 

He made sure during his tenure that he not only thoroughly studied all reports that came out of Eskom, but also read any other energy-related documentation and research he could get his hands on.

It also helped to ensure that, as far as possible, he was never caught off-guard and stayed ahead of the game.

“Reading (all Eskom) reports also ensures that you are quick in your responses and you don’t spend time running around for someone to tell you something because it is already in the reports.”

Think carefully before you speak

Giving credible information and being consistent assist in cementing your own credibility as a spokesperson. “The last thing you want to do is say something you will have to retract tomorrow.”

Stay calm and remain patient

His extensive information-gathering allowed him to remain calm during tough interviews, because he never felt that he would be caught off guard.

But he was often tested. Phasiwe told Business Insider that the allegations that the power cuts were deliberate acts of sabotage were so insulting to him, he often found it difficult to answer the question during interviews.

He also had to teach himself to be patient, as he believes that as a spokesperson he was “a teacher by default”. Phasiwe has gone from answering complex energy questions to helping journalism interns to spell the word “Eskom” many times during interviews, he adds.

Life after resignation

Khulu Phasiwe, Eskom, Resigned

Phasiwe is an avid drag racing and drifting fan - as a spectator though.

“It is exhilarating to watch, maybe someday I’ll try it.”

He grew up in Meadowlands, Soweto, and went to high school in Bloemfontein. He is an avid Bloemfontein Celtic fan as a result, and looks forward to not being disturbed by phone calls while enjoying matches.

“Often times I’d have to walk as far as possible, including outside the stadium, to be able to take phone calls as well as hear the media queries.” 

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