By Chris Bishop.
Business and households were given a pre-Christmas shock with a frank disclosure of the ruin of Africa’s biggest power generator amid claims of sabotage, corruption and decay where those who try to fix it are swept aside or forced out of their jobs. The only crumb of comfort is that the government promises to shake up South Africa’s power generator Eskom and has cancelled their Christmas holidays for its senior executives so they can tour the ageing power stations of the country to find out what is wrong.
“We have reshuffles in cabinet we are going to be reshuffles here as well,” says Pravin Gordhan, the public enterprises minister.
Gordhan and Eskom chairman Jabu Mabuza were called back from a road show for an emergency press conference at Eskom’s Megawatt Park in Sandton, Johannesburg. They painted a bleak picture of the failing national grid, supplied by Eskom, that has left many businesses and homes in the dark over the last few months. The grid of 47,000 MW is running on a mere 29,000 MW because of maintenance and breakdowns in the ageing power stations on the country, most of which were built in the 1970s. Eskom didn’t even know where the next break will be, he said.
“For business, we want to ensure by the time you get back to work in January we have a better situation,” says Gordhan.
But Gordhan acknowledged it was likely to be a grim fight against years of corruption and decay that has seen the pride of Africa’s power generation reduced to a load shedding shell.
“There has been declining production, the growing need for repairs, the lack of attention, we are not sure yet whether there is an undermining of the system, as well, let’s call it sabotage,” he says.
“Some of the problems can be ascribed to the age of the plant, but from about 2010 the investment in maintaining, repairing and big scale repairs were not done adequately. Enough money was not put into big repairs and mid-term repairs.”
“ Often things were fixed with a very lousy old band aid supposed to last a week that comes unstuck in a few days, then you haven’t fixed it .We are looking at contactors not doing what they were supposed to do.”
Experts in Eskom who tried to fix the mess were either swept aside or forced to leave, Gordhan said.
The minister even admitted that his department was also a step behind what was going on at Eskom. It had merely on energy expert.
“The public was told we have a world class operation, but in the meantime all the malfeasance and mismanagment has gone on,” says Gordhan.
Eskom hopes to report back within ten days and plans to set up a team of experts to assess the damage to the power generation system.