South Africa

GRID WATCH

André de Ruyter: Deliberate acts of sabotage are causing power cuts 

Illustrative image: Power lines run from one of Eskom's coal fired power stations near Villiers, EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK./Andre de Ruyter CEO of Eskom at the MegaWatt Park in Sunninghill Sandton.Picture:Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail

For the first time, Eskom has pinned the blame of load-shedding on sabotage — the latest at Lethabo power station in the Free State.

For the first time, Eskom said on Friday, November 19, that “deliberate acts of sabotage” are causing rolling blackouts. When a pylon smashed into a backup line on Wednesday evening at Lethabo Power Station in the Free State, Eskom declared sabotage. 

De Ruyter said Lethabo had been a “close shave” saved by the quick-thinking of officials in the generation section of Eskom. Lethabo had until now been one of the most reliable power stations in the Eskom fleet. Nothing was stolen around the area where the pylon went down, ruling out theft as a motive.  

De Ruyter said load-shedding would be suspended on Friday, November 19 and that the outlook for the next week is for zero power cuts by Eskom.  But sabotage was now a risk that made predictions difficult. 

“We are exposed and there is a need for the police and state security to step in,” said De Ruyter, who until now said he had chosen “not to attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence”.  

On Thursday, November 18, Eskom reported numerous recent economic crimes or sabotage instances, including boiler tube leaks. Security found a truck driver with 60 seals in his cab, indicating that the coal quality checks at a power station had been compromised. Eskom has also had to change security companies and is using drones to protect its network.

Eskom said the replacement of ‘good’ coal with substandard incombustible coal and bits of rock, a common practice at the height of state capture, had not ended.  “We are working against considerable coincidences,” said De Ruyter at a Friday morning briefing.  

“It is concerning that suspicious incidents are happening inside power stations,” said Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha, who added that it was impossible to police the utility’s entire 390,000 kilometres of wire that connected its electricity network.   

The Lethabo pylon crash and the outages at units 1,2, and 3 of the Matimba Power Station in Limpopo caused load-shedding this week.  An extension cord had ‘dropped’ into two units at  Matimba — also likely a spoiler act. 

On a media visit to Tutuka Power Station in Mpumalanga this week, the power station manager, Sello Mametja, revealed how a fuel oil syndicate had siphoned the equivalent of R100-million, another economic crime unveiled by the utility this week.  This piece by News24 explains how it worked. “It is disappointing that there are people out there who will destroy infrastructure to cause load-shedding,” said De Ruyter.    

He added that Eskom had not received any power purchase agreements from the Independent Power Producers (IPP) office at the Department of Energy. Nersa, the regulator, had not yet decided on a maximum price for energy producers under the new regime for own generation. “We can’t sign an agreement we haven’t seen,” he said. De Ruyter responded to reports that the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe had blamed Eskom for delays in adding new power to the grid. He said grid access was not an issue and that Eskom had complied fully with all requirements by the IPP office. DM

See Daily Maverick’s report: Daily Maverick readers give a first-hand account of load shedding has played havoc with their businesses. More reader feedback reports to come.

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All Comments 19

  • Is the SSA utterly useless? Or are they working to bring the country to its knees so the RET faction can take over again? It’s pathetic how criminal elements can cause such havoc with enforcement agencies seemingly doing nothing. Come on man, we live in the digital age, EVERYTHING is recorded. Get on to it, arrest people and let’s put them in a cell to rot like the terrorists they are.

    • Good summation David. Reality is that the insurrection caused by the ANC’s RET faction in July was only the beginning. One can predict with almost certainty that it will continue, albeit possibly more strategic in execution. These almost definite acts of sabotage at Eskom only has one objective, and that is to destabilise the country even more. Unfortunately, neither the SSA or the South African police will be of much help, with large percentage of their leaders siding with this faction and the criminals within their ranks. The poor showing of the ANC at the recent local elections will simply encourage both this RET faction and those planning and executing these acts of violence, looting, sabotage of strategic points, and murdering of anti faction councellors of the ANC. Like what happened in the USA with the storming of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters, we can expect something like that happening in SA is becoming more and more a real possibility. Even if they want to, and I for one believe they do, De Ruyter and some good guys (and there are good guys) at Eskom will battle to fight and prevent these unfortunate incidents. Eskom is one target, but there can be many others. Transnet, Denel, SA Post office, Rand Water, Airports, Oil Companies, Harbours, etc. Personally, I believe our security forces are ill-equipped to handle acts of mass destruction. We struggle to contain day to day crimes, how the hell can our security manage to handle another insurrection.

      • I suspect there is not much left to sabotage at Transnet, all the cables have been stolen already!
        As for the rest, they are already on their knees… Postnet wants an R8Bn bailout? Really? Why?? We have email and couriers and they are USELESS.. Received a letter in August that was posted in December 2020??
        Our security forces are part of the problem. Either (mostly) incompetent or corrupt? I pity the ones who have ethics and morals, they are fighting a losing battle and being purged as we speak!
        I would love to know what they REALLY think of grootBek(i) Cele. If he was my leader I’d find another cause!

    • Offer immunity and cash reward for arrest of the kingpins. The team that this are inconsequential – find the real bosses at any cost and charge them with treason.

  • I’ve been watching See, a story about mankind consisting of only blind people, living in a dystopian future.
    Can’t help but draw a few parallels, especially how remarkably people cope with no sight and no light.
    But that’s after 500 years, so we have time!

  • I have a lot of sympathy for de Ruyter. The only effective way to get rid of incompetence is to get rid of all staff which is not possible. He inherited an organisation where ineffectiveness is the norm. This will always cause bad habits and bad habits are extremely difficult to get rid off. Ask any golfer. Retraining and mind shifts takes years and nobody grants him that choice. He it s not a magician and should be given the authority and time to rescue Escom.

  • I’m guessing that the tower collapsed because parts were stolen for scrap. This is very common country-wide. Until we can control the scrap metal dealers, and the whole processing chain, this problem will continue as it is driven by economic necessity. Crime intelligence is missing in action again.

  • Intentional destabilization by breaking the country’s infrastructure is a well known tactic. So are strikes, murdering policemen, degrading the judicial system through constant appeals, and many more which are now happening in SA.
    That the SSA didn’t let the President know about the impending July riots means that it has been hollowed out in the Zuma years. Don’t forget, originally Zuma was a terrorist trained by the Russians. He knows exactly how destabilization is achieved.

  • I remember the detail and eloquence with which Sikonathi Mantshantsha reported on the malfeasance at Eskom whilst deputy editor of The Financial Mail. My suggestion to Mr de Ruyter is to broaden the remit of Mr Mantshantsha to report publicly on the corruption busts that have taken place at Eskom. South Africans need to know facts, figures and action taken by Eskom. Now that flesh has been hung on the bones of the long-held suspicions that sabotage is just one of Eskom’s challenges, Mr de Ruyter and his team will garner even more support for their efforts when we know quite what they have achieved in this regard.

    Corruption is sabotage; any sabotage of Eskom is treasonous and should be punished as such.

    • Yes, reporting openly on what is being uncovered and whst is being done could be positive for raising support for initiatives to root out corruption, sabotage and maladministration, and assist progress to be made. There needs to be a crisis declared ams resources prioritised to root out these scourges, and get the electricity system stabilised and enabling maintenance and new investment in the system to really he able to have positive results for addressing the crisis.

  • This is sad beyond belief. Ruyters does not strike me as a cry-baby blame peddler – my feeling is he has fairly accurate information to enable this assertion. It’s not guesswork.

    The sadness is that there must therefore be a central concerted agenda amongst powerful players to try and ensure the continued faltering performance of Eskom to encourage implementation of emergency power generation alternatives such as boats in eco centres and Russian nuclear power plants.

    One doesn’t need a degree in rocket science to come to such a conclusion.

  • My guess is that De Ruyter has found out the bad eggs in Eskom and they are now causing mayhem in retaliation in the hope that he will be removed. These thugs need to be removed and charged with treason without delay. If not, I am afraid our economy is doomed.