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POWER CRISIS

Suspects appear in Mpumalanga court for stealing R1m in fuel from Eskom

Suspects appear in Mpumalanga court for stealing R1m in fuel from Eskom
Matla Power Station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu)

An Eskom senior shift supervisor and a tanker driver were recently arrested for allegedly selling heavy fuel oil destined for Matla Power Station in Mpumalanga, causing R1-million in losses to Eskom.

According to Eskom, the theft of heavy fuel oil is a highly organised criminal activity. The syndicates involved are being enriched through the proceeds from the illicit trade in the stolen product.

Heavy fuel oil is used to start and stop coal-fired power plants. It is also used in a range of industrial applications, including maritime vessels, and could play a role in reducing blackouts. South Africa has shown an interest in securing additional power from Karpowership vessels burning heavy fuel oil.

Fuel theft has a pervasive impact across the country and immediate action is required to establish long-term solutions. One of the short-term plans envisioned by Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to mitigate the country’s electricity crisis is the use of diesel to power Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs).

The OCGTs are used to make up for a shortfall in generation capacity when there are outages and breakdowns at Eskom’s coal-fired stations. The theft of heavy fuel oil threatens such plans.

Clamping down on theft

On Thursday 20 July, Eskom senior supervisor Sphiwe Sindane and truck driver Loveless Mabaso appeared in the Kriel Magistrates’ Court in Mpumalanga on charges of theft and fraud for allegedly stealing fuel that was meant for the province’s coal-fired power plant, Matla.

Mabaso worked for a company subcontracted to supply heavy fuel to Eskom. The pair was arrested on 19 July for allegedly conspiring to defraud Eskom. They were remanded in custody.

According to national police spokesperson Athlenda Mathe, an investigation by the police’s priority committee on security energy led to the arrests.

Mathe said Sindane and Mabaso allegedly sold and delivered the fuel oil to someone they knew. The pair, she added, later submitted a fraudulent invoice to Eskom claiming to have delivered the fuel. Eskom suffered a loss of R1-million.

“Since the establishment of the priority committee on security energy by the national commissioner of the SAPS, General Fannie Masemola, from 1 April 2022 to date, the priority committee is currently investigating 1,586 Eskom-related cases,” said Mathe.

A total of 126 arrests had been made thus far. Items to the value of R1-billion had been recovered, including 42 firearms, 83 loads of coal, and mining machinery, she said.

Eskom confirmed the theft in a statement on 22 July, saying the shift supervisor from the Matla Power Station and a heavy fuel oil tanker driver had been detained for fraud and theft.

“The drivers would offload the fuel oil at unknown locations before arriving at the power station. The tankers would then enter the power station empty. Weighbridge slips would be fraudulently registered and printed as if the ordered oil/fuel product was offloaded.

“The theft of fuel oil is a highly organised criminal activity, and the syndicates involved are being enriched through the proceeds derived from the illicit trade of the stolen products. Eskom continues to lose billions of rands due to the misappropriation and adulteration of these critical commodities, which directly affects production,” the statement reads.

Theft of heavy fuel oil is not a new phenomenon in Mpumalanga. The ageing Eskom plant in the province is the alleged hub of a sophisticated theft operation that includes siphoning off fuel worth millions of rands with the help of corrupt officials, trucking companies and police.

The problem appears to go beyond Eskom. In March last year, amaBhungane revealed how armed gangs were stealing fuel from buried pipelines owned by Transnet.

The enormity of Eskom’s troubles is exemplified by controversial intelligence assessments allegedly linking two senior members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet to four criminal gangs operating within Eskom.

Other reported incidents of the theft of fuel/diesel from Eskom include:

  1. Angelo Cysman, a 40-year-old plant operator at the Ankerlig power station in Atlantis, is accused of stealing diesel worth R500,000.
  2. In November 2022, two security guards were arrested in connection with the theft of diesel worth R145,930 from an Eskom plant. The guards were employed by a security company contracted by Eskom and had been guarding the Port Rex gas turbine station in East London.

This is not the first time the Matla Power Station has made headlines for the wrong reasons.

In March this year, Thandeka Innocent Nkosi, a senior buyer employed by Eskom at Matla, and 71-year-old Rabela Sarah Jones and her son Godfrey Jason Jones, were arrested on suspicion of defrauding the power utility of more than R14-million.

They currently face charges of theft, fraud and money laundering. DM

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