Sabotage at Eskom is rampant: report

 ·29 Jan 2023

Power station managers say that Eskom’s problems aren’t necessarily a lack of skills and messy operation plans – the main culprit behind the country’s power problems is rampant criminality, including acts of theft and sabotage.

Speaking to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, station managers said that criminal elements are actively sabotaging Eskom’s power stations on a regular basis – either motivated by political ends or out of spite for being passed over for promotions or other perks.

In 2022, Eskom also confirmed that some acts of sabotage were by contractors looking to secure further work from the power utility after a culprit was caught in the act and confessed.

Eskom is under siege by criminals, from low-level opportunistic and petty thieves to complex and highly organised syndicates. The list of criminal activities it has had to suffer is storied and long, with coal theft, diesel theft, contract exploitation, high-level corruption and even threats of violence adding to the stresses.

Late last year, the national government opted to deploy soldiers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to four of the hardest-hit stations; however, this has had little effect, the Sunday Times reports.

The managers told the paper that there is little that a couple of soldiers trained for warfare can do against widespread criminality and that the stations themselves never requested the SANDF deployment, knowing that it would be a waste of time.

They said that the Hawks or the State Security Agency would have better luck stamping out crime by going undercover.

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter revealed this past week that Tutuka Power Station – one of the four stations the SANDF was deployed to – is the worst-performing station in its fleet, where criminality is the direct cause.

The station operates at an energy availability factor of 15% to 17%.

“The station’s manager has to wear a bulletproof vest when walking the stations and is accompanied by two bodyguards. His wife has bodyguards, and his children go to school with bodyguards – all as a result of threats being made on his life,” de Ruyter said.

He said criminality is an egregious problem that needs to be addressed.

If this problem isn’t resolved, Eskom’s entire recovery plan is at risk of not delivering the megawatts it needs to the national grid, as Tutuka is a key element of this plan.

“Until the criminality at Tutuka is addressed, we will have a significant risk to delivering megawatts to the grid,” de Ruyter said.

As criminals continue their siege, South Africa has been thrust into the worst-ever levels of load shedding as the 15-year power crisis deepens.

Load shedding has been implemented on a near-permanent basis since September 2022, and has hit the country at high stages every day in 2023 so far.

Eskom has warned that load shedding will not be going anywhere any time soon, with the group’s chair, Mpho Makwana suggesting that it will be a factor in the lives of South Africans for the next two years at least.

Read: Eskom’s worst-performing power station – where workers fear for their lives

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