Brown calls on DA to halt Eskom 'hysteria'

In an open letter to DA MP Natasha Michael, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown urged opposition parties to stop the hysteria about Eskom and work with government to fix problems. (David Harrison, M&G)

In an open letter to DA MP Natasha Michael, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown urged opposition parties to stop the hysteria about Eskom and work with government to fix problems. (David Harrison, M&G)

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown wrote an open letter to DA MP Natasha Michael on Thursday, defending the state-owned company against what she said was constant criticism. 

She said: “Eskom is an easy target and can be bullied by all and sundry, while it, as a state-owned company, is required to take the blows without being permitted to respond in like fashion.

“While those who whip up this kind of hysteria feel very pleased with themselves, they are, inadvertently I am sure, delivering a body blow to the creation of jobs and the growth of the economy.”

Brown said social media websites such as Twitter have a way of “shrillness and hyperbole”, which inform communication and often lead to forms of hysteria. She said Michael had a “general anti-Eskom communications campaign”, which was conducted in traditional and new media.

Last week, Michael said a constant and clear flow of information was needed from Brown and Eskom about the Majuba power station in Mpumalanga which suffered a silo collapse.

A coal storage silo, which stored over 10 000 tons of coal, collapsed on Saturday, affecting coal supplies to all six units at the power station. On Tuesday, trade union Solidarity said the silo had been showing signs of stress since January and Eskom had done nothing to correct the problem.

“It is ridiculous that no information has been forthcoming from Minister Brown or Eskom on the nature of the problem at Majuba, and whether any further blackouts are likely,” said Michael in a statement.

She also called on Brown to freeze the salaries of Eskom executives until its performance improved.

She said the situation was a national crisis that could “wreck” the economy, destroy jobs, and disrupt the matric examinations. It was not yet known what caused the collapse of the silo, how great the risk of further blackouts was, and how permanent the current solution to the problem was, she added.

“Instead, the matter has been shrouded in secrecy.”

Michael said it had been widely reported that Eskom used wet coal.
This posed a serious danger as the wet coal caused a chemical reaction that placed extra pressure on a silo, she said. 

“It is very plausible that the collapse of the silo, and the resulting national rolling blackout, was caused by negligence on the part of Eskom. This possibility needs to be thoroughly and transparently investigated.”

On Thursday Brown wrote that the committees of Parliament had been presented with “so much information” and views from Eskom, the department and the ministry of public enterprises that it was “hard to see” what information was left out.

“If you want more information on the timeline for maintenance of power stations, I am quite happy that you receive this,” she said.

“The fact that Eskom has serious challenges is quite apparent to everyone. The fact that it will take some time to reach the kind of electricity supply situation which we all desire has been stated repeatedly by Eskom and myself.”

Brown said that opposition parties should put aside point scoring and work with government to ensure investors gain confidence in the country. She said investors gained confidence when all parties and stakeholders were committed to overcoming challenges.

“They lose confidence when parties and stakeholders are hell-bent on crushing each other, even when this is likely to harm the common good – including the interests of the investors,” she wrote. 

“My position is simple. There are moments when we need to set aside point-scoring and display leadership irrespective of which side of the House we occupy. This is one of those moments in our country’s history.”

Brown referred Michael to her budget speech in July where she made a special appeal on the subject of the electricity supply situation in the country. She said she met with a delegation from Business Unity SA who all knew about Eskom’s challenges and were scheduled to meet again soon. 

Brown wrote that she also met with representatives of two trade unions.

“Not once during our exchanges did either of them consider that they should be doing anything other than to help solve the utility’s problems on the basis of serious discussions and an unflinching commitment to the common good,” she said. 

“The fact that the recently announced support package for Eskom is a very serious step on the path to returning Eskom to financial sustainability is accepted by those who monitor and evaluate every move which the utility makes.” 

She urged Michael to play her “legitimate role” as an opposition party. – Sapa

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