Ms Anne Kovach​​


Can you name a woman that has reached a senior position as private secretary five years after matriculating and remained in that position while the “bosses” had changed four times.

These are the credentials of Anne Kovach, the secretary to our Chairman, and the first sole secretary to the Chairmen of ESCOM since the take-over of the VFP.

Born of Yugoslav parents, Maria and John/Ivan Kovach, at the Queen Victoria Hospital Johannesburg. They moved to Orange Grove where Ivan ran a dairy delivering milk to customers by horse and cart. Maria rand a boarding house for mainly, Yugoslav men. Apart from being bilingual, she was also fluent in Yugoslavian as she was brought up speaking the language. When her parents immigrated to South Africa before the first World War, their early years were spent farming in the vicinity of the land on which Kriel power station was built.

What motivated Anne to become a secretary? When I left Orange Grove primary school I wanted to become a school teacher. However my parents discussed this with me and pointed out that secretarial work would be more profitable in the long run. 

She pointed out that the choice of careers for woman was very limited in the days when she was at school. She matriculated at the South African Johannesburg Commercial High School in 1940 where she was Head Girl and her progress to the top had since been meteoric. After a year with the Red Cross she joined the Van der Bijl Group (Steel) with the Steel Sales Division. This was followed by brief periods at ISCOR, and then VECOR.

Anne Kovach secretary to ESCOM’s first four Chairmen

At the age of 21 Anne Kovach was appointed private secretary to Dr H J van der Bijl, at that stage Chairman of ISCOR, VECOR, AMCOR, ESCOM, SAFMARINE and the IDC. After his death the Government decided to split this Group and separate the steel industry from ESCOM – in other words ESCOM would have its own Chairman. Miss Kovach decided she would like to remain in Johannesburg and in so in February 1949 she became a fully-fledged member of ESCOM’s staff as private secretary to Mr. A M Jacobs the second chairman of ESCOM. He had a quite placid nature and was a perfect gentleman at all times. I shall never forget him in his impeccably tailored suit every day, sporting a fresh rosebud – even when no-one else had roses he still managed a fresh rose every morning”.

Three years later Dr. J T Hattingh succeeded Mr. Jacobs and was appointed chairman and Anne worked for him until his retirement in 1962. “I was in absolute awe of him, but did not take me long to realise that this man with a brusque exterior who called a spade a spade but at heart a kind gentle man, but he did not suffer fools lightly. One of his main characteristics was when asked to explain anything, outcome his notepad and with a drawing or mathematical equation, he would give the answer. Anne worked for Dr. TJ T Hattingh, at a time when she had to face an extremely difficult period. A period marred by personal bereavement, when her other died in February 1961. It is little wonder that she had a special regard for this man and the support he gave. “Most of all I liked his direct manner of calling a spade a spade. At no time was I left wondering whether – if it was wrong. In his kind quite way he would go to great pains to explain why he thought it was not right”.

When Dr Straszacker was appointed chairman in 1962 Anne then worked for him. But what about the personal adjustments she experienced with each Chairman? Although each Chairman, had his very own special way of handling matters, she “adjusted very well and did not find it at all difficult”. Of Dr. van der Bijl she says: “He was a dynamic person but not easily approachable – maybe it was my youth – and also the fact that he always had so many people around him who were too anxious to do “things for him”.

Anne Kovach looking at a drawing of Dr Straszacker

Anne saw many changes in ESCOM over the 30years “I must say that from 1962 I was particularly conscious of the rapid acceleration of progress in ESCOM: my work load increased simultaneously”. A great deal of this advancement she attributes to the dynamic personality of Dr. Straszacker. After 13 years with Dr. Straszacker, Anne was in the best position to comment, and she did with enthusiasm. “He is unassuming, friendly, accessible and a perfectionist. He never criticizes, never condemns, and I regard it a great honour to be working for such an able man”.

Dr Straszacker, Anne Kovach, Dr Esme Smith (widow of the late Jan H Smith and I D van der Walt (ex Senior General Manager) at Eskom’s 75th aniversary celebrations

Anne’s normal working day involved a number of things: booking appointments for the Chairman, controlling the telephone, typing, filing, arranging transport, table plans, and even arranging the flowers in their most attractive offices. Not to mention the heaps of paper work that requires sifting.

Anne did a lot of travelling and visited the Far East, Europe and the USA where she accompanied the ESCOM group to the World Energy conference in Detroit. “This was the highlight of my career at ESCOM”. And for exercise – there’s nothing to beat Yoga, of which Anne has been an enthusiast for many years; and is convinced that this has helped her to accept things, and relax easily. She also enjoyed a game of bridge or bowls in her free time.

Dr Straszacker, Anne Kovach and Philemon Nkomo (Dr Straszackers chauffeur)

Mid-February 1979 Anne bid ESCOM farewell – a woman who had been associated with ESCOM for 38 years, 34 of which she has worked for ESCOM’S first four successive Chairmen. Which also saw the retirement of Dr. Reinhart Straszacker, ESCOM’s Chairman. What about the adjustments that Anne had to make working for different Chairmen. She says that she viewed it as a challenge and found it most interesting. Showing her sense of humour she adds, “I was actually at an advantage in that I had been in my job for a while and each Chairman was coming into a new position”. Anne had obviously seen tremendous progress with ESCOM over the years.

Anne had no regrets about her career, and this is evident in the contented and friendly smile she had for anyone who entered her office.

Anne passed away on 21 October 2015 at the age of 91 years.

Anne Kovach and Dr Straszacker at Megawatt Park

Dr Ian McRae Eskom’s Chief Executive, held a lunch in honour of Ms Anne Kovach who was secretary to four of ESCOM’s chairmen. Her illustrious career started in 1942 as a secretary in the Van der Bijl Corporation. In 1945 she became private secretary to Dr Hendrik van der Bijl. In 1948 Mr Jacobs took over as Chairman. At this time, the then ESCOM and Iscor split up and she decided to work for ESCOM. In 1952 when Dr Hattingh was appointed Chairman, Anne once again took up the position as chairman’s secretary. July 1962 saw the arrival of Dr Straszacker and she stayed with him until 1980, at which time they both retired from ESCOM’s service

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