Eskom powerless over blackouts - fixers in the dark

Minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan chats to Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza.
Minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan chats to Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza.
Image: Alon Skuy

Brace yourself for at least two more weeks of darkness as the government scrambles to find a solution to the country's energy crisis.

This much became evident when public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan admitted Eskom needed 10 to 14 days to come up with a plan on how load-shedding would be managed going forward. He would not commit to a time frame by which the crippling blackouts would be ended.

"We don't have a magic formula. it is going to be a huge struggle ahead of us to actually overcome this crisis. At this point in time we are still getting a better grasp of the technical problems that Eskom power stations are confronted with," said Gordhan.

Since Saturday, South Africans have been subjected to stage 4 load-shedding whose triggers included tropical cyclone Idai in Mozambique, which destroyed pylons bringing electricity into the country from the Cahora Bassa hydro-
power station.

Gordhan said they needed time to investigate all the problems before updating the nation on when load-shedding would end.

The situation was aggravated by leakages in boilers, which resulted in a high number of generation units at power stations being taken off the grid. Eskom also could not use its open cycle gas turbine as there was no diesel available.

Gordhan, who was accompanied by Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza and CEO Phakamani Hadebe, detailed the problems at the power utility as operational, financial and structural. Mabuza placed the higher risks at the operational level, where the breakdowns are taking place.

"The operational side is now at crisis level at Eskom," Mabuza said.

Mabuza, Hadebe and Gordhan all confirmed that Eskom had not done proper maintenance while power stations were aging.

Mabuza said the maintenance budget was halved from the R40bn of six years ago.

Gordhan said state capture had moved money towards capital expenditure and "that became the pool from which looting happened".

The operational side is now at crisis level at Eskom
Jabu Mabuza, Eskom board chair

Eskom, he added, had also lost a number of skilled personnel who could not stand the environment.

The utility's debt stands at a staggering R419bn.

Mabuza dismissed views that the independent power producers were a cause of Eskom's problems.

He said problems had been in existence for some time.

Energy strategist Ted Blom criticised the government for not heeding warnings.

"I've lost confidence in that board and the ministry. They have been talking about plans since last year but there is still no recovery plan.

We need people who know what they are doing," Blom said.

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