Defend Truth


Is Eskom being sabotaged? History suggests that is a strong possibility


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

It is not inconceivable that there may be political movements in South Africa, or fragments of those movements, who would ‘recruit’ staff at Eskom power plants to sabotage generation and supply, while making nice in legislatures around the country.

There is by now an almost complete acceptance that South Africa is in the grip of an electricity supply crisis, and that alarm bells are going off in the highest offices of the land – as well they should. 

There is, also, sufficient consensus on the main cause of the electricity crisis – the failure of the state to heed early warnings, and the gradual breakdown of infrastructure. These explanations satisfy, but is there a missing element? Are there other forces at work? Maybe.

One of the likely causes of the crisis may be sabotage, an issue which comes up from time to time (see here, here and here), but it is rarely investigated fully. Maybe it is, or has been, but there certainly is no evidence or public statement about it from the state. We are left then to speculate, as we may. 

To begin with we probably have to ask who would benefit the most from the collapse of the electricity supply. 

Is it disgruntled white people who would like to see the ANC-led government fail? It is not inconceivable. 

Is it disgruntled workers within Eskom? We cannot rule this out. 

What about political opponents; could they be behind the breakdown(s) in power supply? Maybe. 

Read in Daily Maverick:Beware the populist politics of fear and resentment that pave the path to authoritarianism

The ANC-led government’s main political adversary, and the one that has the most to gain, is the movement that rejects democratic republican government and constitutionality. Such a movement, and its lust for power with all its pecuniary opportunities – concealed behind a fig leaf of “revolution” – would have the most to gain from overthrowing the government, by all and any means necessary.

A perverse two-level game

Radical populists and revolutionary parties play a perverse two-level game, quite different to that of conventional foreign policymaking where policy is made while looking inward and projected outward. In a perverse process, political movements, especially the leader, keep a straight face while “ground forces” engage in subterfuge. 

Such a movement, in other words, has a dual-policy approach to political economy and political processes in the country. Above ground, in public, it would participate in formal political processes, while working underhand to destabilise the state.

In some instances, making enough noise in public spaces helps draw attention away from subterfuge and underhand dealings. It should not be a surprise then when political leaders of authoritarian movements cry wolf, or make up stories of persecution to deflect from their own doings.

Nevertheless, with respect to making nice while engaging in dirty tricks, consider two examples from 20th-century history of autocratic and totalitarian regimes. 

In the first instance, while Benito Mussolini, dressed formally in top hat and coat-tails, was greeted by Italian King Victor Emmanuel III on 28 October 1922, his Blackshirt brigands marched through Rome, intimidating the public. 

The Blackshirts were sometimes presented as unarmed and harmless and the incarnation of valiant Italians. In this duality, there was Mussolini behaving politely and participating in “above-board” processes while his thugs were dealing in underhand tactics by intimidating and scaring the public. The Blackshirts were reaping their just rewards, previously denied to them. 

Read in Daily Maverick:Spare us the performative, ritualistic politics and give us engineers

The Soviet Union and Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) used the same dual approach; of making nice while causing trouble. While the Soviet Union had formal diplomatic ties with the governments of Western democracies, the CPSU would conduct relations with ideological soulmates within these democracies, and encourage revolution. 

This subterfuge was complex and insidious. It included propaganda and the manipulation of politicians and activists in democratic countries through formal and informal channels, recruiting people whose emotions they manipulated. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

After Joseph Stalin died, Nikita Khrushchev went to great lengths to establish political and economic relations with Western states, while pursuing military strategic relations with states and liberation movements in the developing world as part of expanding their influence among poor countries.

In 1920s Italy, the fascists would insist on total control over society. Private citizens had to give up their individual needs for the totality, as defined by the state. If then we see political parties in South Africa that would insist that no private citizen would own their property, that banks, mines and industries be controlled by the state, we have echoes of Mussolini’s totalitario. He would explain this as “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state”.

In a most comprehensive bundle of tactics, the authoritarians, led quite often by charismatic strongmen who thrive on a personalist leadership, degrade democracy politically, while the rank and file destroy institutions and infrastructure. 

Read in Daily Maverick:Turkey — reality has a habit of destroying lives, hopes and dreams

While he was talking nicely (in 1921) Mussolini’s brigands were attacking newspapers and social gatherings that they considered to be enemies. The previous year, on 21 July 1920, their fascist squads destroyed the Rome Office of the left-wing newspaper, Avanti! and when they attacked its Turin headquarters two months later, Avanti! reported that the attackers were mostly Royal Guards, led by a sergeant, together with others in civilian clothes. Police and army officers not only turned a blind eye to fascist attacks, but actively coordinated with them. 

It is not inconceivable, then, that there may be political movements, or fragments, who would “recruit” staff at power plants to sabotage generation and supply, while making nice in legislatures around the country.

Returning to the dualism of fascist participation in society (above board and in the shadows), we can turn to none other than Leon Trotsky who was one of the earliest thinkers to understand just how unique fascism was. Trotsky explained that Italian fascists used a dual strategy of standing in democratic elections, and put on a “respectable face” as a solution to the country’s myriad problems, while building a street-fighting cadre to terrorise its opponents and wage a low-intensity war against “enemies”. 

The strategy was so successful that Mussolini was handed power in 1922, after which the fascists destroyed democracy and crushed any and all opposition.

In South Africa we sit then with power-generating infrastructure that is failing in places, and collapsing in other places. The ruling ANC is the obvious target of criticism, and bears much of the responsibility for the situation the country is in. 

If we look at lessons learnt – from studying the tactics and strategies of anti-democratic or illiberal political movements to sabotage democracy and the provision of public goods and services, and undermine the state – we cannot ignore the possibility that saboteurs and conspirators may have played a role and will continue to do so, until they have power. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew W says:

    More likely is a proxy war between ANC factions in the theater of Eskom… At the expense of the country

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    A national key point called Eskom which ought by definition to have the best in the security industry in all its power plants and we have people peddling sabotage. We ought to be suspicious of these claims and we are told that 43 people have been arrested not even convicted and we are not told what is it that has been sabotaged except speculations. The most interesting thing also is that even Mantashe is dismissive of these claims as he raises many questions that require a lot of answers.
    The author knows that the ANC removed security employed by Eskom and put a BEE brigade to be security with no security clearance and this is at the core of the Eskom problems of risk management. The other issue he fails to come with is the issue of OEMs and BEE extractive elements that have run down Eskom. We had the ANC removing the railway police that Ismael can attest to their effectiveness for useless BEE companies and they have the temerity to tell us about a vandalised rail infrastructure without accepting any responsibility for creating the problem.
    One has been asking about the functioning of security at Eskom and cameras and Ismael knows that during Apartheid to be found near a power station without reason you would be in serious trouble. The issue of sale coal mines of Eskom and removal of coal from rail to trucks and insertion of BEE extractive elements is central to the problem we must confront head on.

  • John Strydom says:

    Most interesting parallels.
    Yet we seem to be clueless as to what this underground force might be.
    If it is playing the sabotage game it is doing so masterfully. Not ONE Eskom whistleblower to date?
    It’s baffling.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “Is it disgruntled white people who would like to see the ANC-led government fail? It is not inconceivable.”

    No, mate, they’re sitting watching your obvious chommies in the ANC making a total stuff up of what was one of the best power generating setups in the world before they captured it and seeing they’ve overloaded with useless cadavers/cadres who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery even if they could find the brewery in the first place. To try to accuse ‘white’ people of treachery in trying to destroy the ANC via Eksdom is tantamount to racism. Oh no sorry, only ‘white’ people can be racist. Sorry, I forgot. And anyway, those idiots are doing a fine job themselves!

    “The ANC-led government’s main political adversary, and the one that has the most to gain, is the movement that rejects democratic republican government and constitutionality”

    Really? I wonder who you’re presumably shit-scared of mentioning by name? Could you possibly be talking about those children in red overalls, the ones whose leaders are still waiting for their days in court about the VBS thefts?

    And BTW trying to prove your knowledge by talking endlessly it seems about ‘white’ fascists like Mussolini isn’t particularly clever IMHO.

  • Helen Swingler says:

    Fascinating but chilling reading.

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Similarly, Cape Town’s MyCiti rollout is a welcome step in the right direction for peace-loving and law-abiding residents of the city. However, go into Joe Slovo (Milnerton) and you find the bus stations have not only been vandalised, but razed to the ground – just to ensure 100% sabotage of the City’s mobility programme in that area. Who does this kind of thing? And why don’t the residents of Joe Slovo protect their own infrastructure? The taxi industry is the only beneficiary of this targeted destruction as they believe doing so protects their jobs, which it may well do, but at the cost of every single resident of Joe Slovo. And why don’t the residents stand up? If your husband, son or friends’ husband or son is a taxi driver, you may be persuaded to allow them to continue doing what they’re doing – especially if your plate is being filled by the wages they earn. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye in this instance is akin to poking the sighted one with a sharp stick. You only make things worse for yourself as they find day after day.

  • Rory Short says:

    That you could have groups that present a good public face whilst under the covers are aimed at destroying public facilities is a definite possibility. Thus the State has to have institutions whose purpose is to expose such groups. Are there any such groups in SA, I don’t know of any.

  • John Smythe says:

    @Andrew McWalter, the reason they don’t stand up is because they pay neither government nor municipal rates for services and electricity (whenever there is). Why should they care? It’s for free. I pay my taxes and I don’t expect the residents at the Joe Slovo Parks, etc. to respect my hard work. Because in their minds, it’s for free. And with thousands streaming into Cape Town every month, how can the ever-diminishing base of tax-payers continue to shoulder the burden of persistent destruction and lack of respect for infrastructure and services? That fact doesn’t occur to them. It’s for free. It’s the sense of entitlement, non-payment and corruption freight train that the ANC started, encouraged and cannot ever stop.

  • John Smythe says:

    Disgruntled white people? Really? So, breaking power stations to what end? To give power back to the terrible whites? To overthrow government? Yeah right. Find something with more substance, Lagardien. Because now you’re poking in the dark (so to speak).

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The one observation I would make is a question … how do so many power generating plants ‘break down’ faster than they are ‘repaired’ … when presumably there is a ‘manager’ at each one ? Does anyone at/in eskom carry any responsibility … i.e. accountability ? As for the suggestion that ‘whites’ could be behind the ‘sabotage’ … I thought they were turfed out of eskom (any which way you can) a long while ago, to make way for ‘cadres’ of the ‘correct’ pigmentation or appearance ? To hell with MLK’s observation about judging people by the contents of their ‘character’ ! It even applies to a white supremacist like Clarence Thomas (not even wearing blackface makeup … but married to a white supremacist!) in the US, sitting on the bench of the highest court of the land!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted