/ 15 November 2022

Eskom: ‘Brace for more load-shedding’

Jan Oberholzer
South Africans should brace themselves for longer load-shedding schedules, warned Jan Oberholzer, Eskom’s chief operating officer. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africans should brace themselves for longer load-shedding schedules, warned Jan Oberholzer, Eskom’s chief operating officer. He said the utility is embarking on capital investment and major repair projects, which carry risks for the country’s generation capacity.

“Due to the vulnerability and unpredictability of the power system, coupled with the major capital projects, maintenance and major repairs to be executed starting during the next few months, the risk of continued load-shedding remains quite high,” Oberholzer said.

The utility’s execution of planned maintenance and refurbishment have been below target but have not adversely affected system reliability. Completion of the planned programmes remains a focus area, he said.

Oberholzer highlighted the poor performance in generation in 2022. In his assessment, he revealed that the utility’s power stations combined have tripped 468 times. He added that the utility has exceeded its open cycle gas turbine budget — which generates power — spending R11.2-billion. While the utility grapples with these issues, there is also the uncomfortabl fact of theft.


Ongoing theft, sabotage and vandalism continue to impact operations, creating risks for

interruption incidents at Eskom. Oberholzer said Eskom continues to suffer under internal theft and sabotage.

Eskom has been investigating criminal cases within the utility in a coordinated effort with law enforcement agencies to address sabotage, fraud and theft.

Investigations with the South African Police Service and internal group security have led to the arrests of more than 20 suspects who were caught stealing from the utility’s coffers.

Eskom employees continue to be fingered in corruption and fraud cases. Last week, two truck drivers contracted to Eskom were arrested at Kendal power station after they were found in possession of stolen coal. The drivers were arrested on Wednesday night and a criminal case of theft of coal was registered with the Ogies police station, Eskom said in a statement.

According to sources in the investigation team, a manager at Kendal power station allegedly colluded agreed with the drivers.

“After interrogation of the suspect, the driver confessed that there was an agreement with a certain manager we cannot name now, where they would split the money they get from selling the coal on a 60/40%, and they would both leave happy,” the source said.

“We are under the impression that this is not the first rodeo the manager has done, because the driver seemed confident that he would pass through the gate.”

On Tuesday, Oberholzer said the utility had seen incidents where employees would steal from the utility and sell the equipment on cheaply. These cases caused the utility to continue to bleed financially to cater for the loss caused by the criminal syndicates in the utility.

To regain its financial stability, Oberholzer said Eskom is waiting for the government to provide a resolution to recover its money from municipalities. “Municipal debt and energy losses remain a challenge Eskom is working closely with the government, communities and the public to implement the strategies towards resolution,” he said.

Electricity theft through meter-bridging and non-payment by municipalities  continues to be an operational and financial risk, he said.

Kusile blowback

Eskom has also been dealing with infrastructure challenges. For example, at Kusile power station, the collapse of a flue-gas duct leading out of Unit 1 has dealt a severe blow to the utility’s efforts to improve the generation capacity there.

“This loss of the Kusile units has added additional strain to an already constrained generation system. Unit 4 is the only one currently on load at Kusile,” Eskom said.

Oberholzer said it is still establishing the extent of the damage to Kusile’s duct system, but  revealed that current estimates showed it would take more than six months to fix.

“The extent of the damage to the Kusile duct system will be established over the next few weeks as investigations into the structural failure pick up speed,” Eskom said.

According to Thomas Conradie, Eskom’s new managing director for generation, the cause is poor management of the system and a lack of proper maintenance. “If skilled employees performed their duties properly, the problem could have been prevented, Eskom is embarking on training our employees through the help of old Eskom staff and internationally sourced specialists,” he said.

Eskom bleeding employees

To add to its woes, Eskom is losing crucial staff members. Some are in senior management positions: the acting head of generation, Rhulani Mathebula, recently tendered his resignation with immediate effect. 

Mathebula was the fifth high-level employee to resign from the utility. 

Mathebula’s resignation was announced by Oberholzer during a media conference on Tuesday. “When [Mathebula] tabled his resignation, he said the demand of the job was untenable, and it impacted his health and family time. We need to understand the demand of this role, and the demand on the head of generation in turning this ship around,” Oberholzer said.

Mathebula’s resignation follows after the recent departure of Eskom head of energy transition Mandy Rambharos, who joined US non-profit, the Environment Defense Fund, at the end of October.

Earlier this year, Riedewaan Barkadien, the chief nuclear officer, resigned after 27 years with Eskom. After 27 years at Eskom, Barkadien resigned to take up a job at a Canadian nuclear utility in an executive position.

In May, an Eskom employee who served for 26 years, Phillip Dukashe, resigned as group executive for generation. He was replaced by Mathebula. 

As load-shedding worsens to record levels, Lethabo power station manager Thomas Conradie has been appointed to act as the head of generation in Mathebula’s place.