South Africa does have the capacity to fix embattled power utility Eskom, but it will need to rely on skills which have already left the country, says the chief executive of African Rainbow Energy & Power, Brian Dames.
Speaking to radio station 702 at the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week, Dames said the current crisis at Eskom was equivalent to a ‘state of emergency’, but there is capacity to address these issues.
“Eskom is fixable – and we have to (fix) it. We have to bring back the skills, and there are people who have done it and can do it – and they are all South African. I have given a list of names and they are doing exactly what they were doing in South Africa in other parts of the world,” he said.
Dames’ comments come after Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan bemoaned a lack of engineering and technical skills and experience in Eskom, which he noted remains a significant challenge. “These are pre-requisites for a major industrial operation like Eskom,” he said.
The minister said that a skills mentoring programme using highly experienced power station managers has also been launched. “This team will be deployed to power stations where load losses are particularly severe.”
Eskom’s skills controversy dates back to 2008 when trade union Solidarity informed the National Energy Regulator of South Africa that at least 346 engineers and artisans left Eskom in twelve months.
Instead of emphasising retaining technical skills to coach new engineers and artisans, Eskom drove away many white engineers and technical staff to comply with labour equity targets.
In 2015, media reports revealed that Eskom was planning to cut the number of white engineers and managers and decrease the number of white tradespeople.
Cutting skilled white employees was needed to comply with the strict provisions in South Africa’s Equity Act. The Department of Labour required Eskom to set quotas so the demographics of its workforce would more closely match that of the country at large.