Eskom’s power units across the country will be manned by the police to prevent sabotage, as part of an emergency plan by the government to keep the lights on.
The Presidential Cabinet Committee on Eskom will brief president Cyril Ramaphosa on a daily basis on progress made to resolve the challenges at Eskom, which has managed to avert load shedding over the past two days, following a week of planned outages.
“This committee will deal with matters of Eskom daily and deliver daily reports to the President on what actions need to be taken to secure energy supply,” said Cabinet in a statement on Friday.
This as president Ramaphosa announced the appointment of a Special Cabinet Committee on Eskom to be led by deputy president David Mabuza in Parliament on Thursday.
The committee comprises the Ministers of Public Enterprises, Energy, Finance, Transport, Intelligence and Police.
The plan includes averting and potential sabotage by those linked to state capture, the Sunday Times reported, as suspicion mounted that the power crisis was deliberately created after the failure of as many as seven power generating units.
The Sunday Times reported that security agencies are also part of the surveillance team assembled to prevent malicious attacks.
A senior government source said they were detecting a “well-infiltrated, well organised and well-resourced fightback” against the Ramaphosa administration “with antennae that reach all over”, the paper said.
Ramaphosa said that Eskom’s problems could be the work of “remnants of state capture”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Ramaphosa said: “It could well be that there are remnants of state capture at Eskom. [But] we are more empowered to investigate and to follow up and ensure accountability.”
Bloomberg reported that the outages also proved a blessing for cable thieves, who are able to work during the blackouts without fear of electrocution.
Theft of copper cables – already a perennial problem in South Africa – “is very high during load shedding,” said Isaac Mangena, a spokesman for City Power.
“The schedules we send to customers are also available to thieves who can plan to do what they want for four hours at a time.”
As part of his state of the nation address earlier this month, Ramaphosa said that government will initiate a plan to split Eskom’s business into three separate entities.
The business will focus on generation, transmission and distribution, he said.
The idea has been rejected by trade unions, who believe the change is the first step towards privatising the power utility, and will lead to job losses.
South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi called the move a “declaration of war” and said they plan to retaliate by protesting in parliament during finance minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech in February.
Saftu said it would initiate a national shutdown in March, to protest the unbundling plan.
Cosatu added that unions would be willing to negotiate with the government on Eskom, but it would not accept any move towards privatisation of the power utility or any job losses.
“This is their mess, they can unbundle five times if they want to but no job should be lost even if it means they have to reskill the workers, they should do that,” said Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.
The rand meanwhile, was back on its perch as the world’s most volatile currency as investors priced in the risk of a credit-rating downgrade while awaiting details of the government’s rescue plan for Eskom.
The Eskom crisis sent the unit back above R14 to the dollar.