Independent analysts have backed Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter’s claims of sabotage at the embattled power utility, with multiple incidents of malicious damage seen across the group’s operations.
Energy expert Mark Swilling, a professor at Stellenbosch University, told the Sunday Times of claims from various sources that sabotage is taking place. He added that the culprits were likely low-level managers and that the consistent pattern of breakdowns is unlikely to be maintenance-related.
This was echoed by Clyde Mallinson, director at renewable energy company Virtual Energy and Power, who said that the sabotage reflects a broader decline in society, including service delivery, policing and the military.
Mallinson said South Africa needs to fix the economy and cut unemployment quickly. “The key resides in transformation in the energy sector. That is why it is ironic that it should be that same sector that is under attack.”
De Ruyter said at a media briefing on Friday morning (19 November), that the country could have been plunged into Stage 6 load shedding or worse had alleged saboteurs succeeded in an apparent plan to shut down some of the units at the Lethabo Power Station.
He said an Eskom investigation into the Lethabo Power Station incident found that stays and rods were cut to trigger the fall of an electricity line pylon also known as a tower.
De Ruyter said that the fall of the pylon damaged two coal feeding lines which could have caused the power station – which is South Africa’s most reliable – to be without coal within six hours, triggering a consequent shut down.
“There is no sign of corrosion, no sign of metal fatigue, there was no shearing of these pylons and there is evidence that there was some cutting instrument involved; whether that is a hack saw or an angle grinder.
“What further arouses suspicion that this was a deliberate act of sabotage is that nothing was stolen from the site. So the stays [holding the pylon in place] were cut, the tower was pushed over onto the other line and nothing was stolen so this is not an economic crime,” he said.
De Ruyter, who has repeatedly declined to call incidents at power stations malicious, now suggested that the evidence is there to see.
“For some time we have had suspicious incidents and I think this is the clearest indication that we have had to date that there are individuals out there who seek to damage the economy by causing very significant and substantial load shedding.”
The chief executive said the 390,000km of distribution and transmission lines across the country make it physically impossible to position station guards at every pylon.
However, he said security measures within and around power station sites such as drone patrolling, a stepping up of access control and the use of camera intelligence are helping the power utility to prevent incidents before they occur.
“Can we cope with a concerted attack…on a number of our key elements of our system simultaneously? I don’t think that is a scenario that we want to contemplate. We have mechanisms in place to avoid total blackouts,” he said.