Following high-profile cases of theft and sabotage at power utility Eskom, the group says it now has to “micromanage” investigations because South Africa’s authorities are moving too slowly.
According to the Sunday Times, the power utility is also disappointed by the level of attention being given to these crimes, given their serious impact on the country. Eskom’s general manager of security, Karen Pillay, said that prosecutors are unavailable after hours, magistrates are unwilling, and suspects get meagre bail sums.
“We’ve had to extend support in the sense that we’ve put watching briefs on some of the cases, where we contract legal experts to guide some of these prosecutors, and even the investigative teams on specific matters,” said Pillay.
Pillay’s grievances come shortly after Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said he’s questioning the criminal justice system’s commitment to combating crimes against the state after the recent arrest and subsequent release of an alleged coal thief by the Belfast magistrate’s court.
This also included the fact that the perpetrator who sent a bomb threat to Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer in May was released on R2,000 bail by the Witbank magistrate’s court on Monday on a charge of contravening the Explosives Act.
De Ruyter said threats to staff have dramatically increased since the power utility started clamping down on sabotage and corruption. Station managers are now wearing bulletproof vests to work, and de Ruyter says more must be done by authorities to help Eskom fight against crime.
Over the past couple of months alone, several truck drivers have been arrested for stealing coal, two security guards for stealing close to R150,000 worth of diesel and a maintenance worker for sabotaging one of its units at the Camden power station.
All of these incidents can be seen as direct sabotage of Eskom’s operability, as each results in either a huge financial loss or actual physical damage to the country’s power stations, which exacerbates the ongoing energy crisis and keeps South African citizens and businesses in the dark.
In the one reported case of direct sabotage, a maintenance worker intentionally removed the bearing oil drain plug from the bearing, causing the oil burners to trip repeatedly. When questioned, he said he did it to cause a trip to ensure that his employer would be awarded additional maintenance and repair jobs at the station.
Pillay believes that law enforcement does not take the severity of crimes against the power utility and its impact on the bigger scale of the economy seriously – adding that Eskom now spends R3.2 billion a year on private security due to sabotage, death threats against senior executives, theft and damage to critical infrastructure, said Sunday Times.
However, the National Prosecuting Authority has hit back, saying its specialised units are “highly skilled to deal with complex cases relating to essential infrastructure”, the Sunday Times added.
“There is no indication that the courts cannot deal with these offences,” NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said. “It is also critical for the SOEs [state-owned enterprises] to ensure that their controls and security measures are in place to prevent any unlawful activities at their sites.”
Despite the NPA’s words, of the 16 cases of sabotage Eskom has registered in 2022, only one case has been enrolled in court, which involves the subcontractor who intentionally removed the bearing oil drain plug, reported Sunday Times.
“Frustration is mounting, and the government had dragged its feet when it came to implementing policies and measures that would prevent crimes against state-owned entities,” said Pillay.