Tough talk from Gordhan as Eskom hits crisis mode

‘Working around clock to prevent dark Christmas’

Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza, left, talks to public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan before the media briefing about the power outages that have hit the country
Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza, left, talks to public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan before the media briefing about the power outages that have hit the country
Image: Masi Losi

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has warned former Eskom managers to leave their replacements alone and let the current board members do their job.

“We would like to send a message to those who like to issue tweets, former managers in Eskom – can you please take your hands off Eskom,” Gordhan said in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon.

Gordhan – with Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza, Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe and other board members – was addressing the media on the affairs at the power utility.

It was not entirely clear who Gordhan was referring to, but former acting CEO Matshela Koko has been a vocal critic of Eskom’s new leadership on Twitter since his resignation earlier in 2018.

“Go find a job which will keep you busy, because if you think you are the most skilled individual in town, I’m sure you will have a job to do,” Gordhan said.

“Leave the Eskom management and board to do their bit.

“Don’t try treasonous things which are going to let Eskom perform less than its potential, even with the constraints that we have at the moment.

“Leave us alone. There is a brave management team and board that has a piece of work to do. Let them do the piece of work.”

That “piece of work”, according to Gordhan, will mean no senior managers will be allowed to take leave this festive season as scheduled power cuts – under the guise of “load-shedding” – have hit the country over the past two weeks.

Gordhan said Eskom management would be working throughout the festive season to resolve the current challenges at the power utility.

Senior managers’ leave had been cancelled and they would be deployed to different power stations.

“Part of the assessment that they need to make is the level of skill that is there on the ground.

“There are excellent people who might be sitting here at Megawatt Park [Eskom’s headquarters], who have good skills and they are sitting behind a desk and operating a computer,” Gordhan said.

He said Eskom was in emergency mode and that when you were in a crisis “you deploy all your resources where they are most required”.

“Rather than sitting here, can we deploy them at power station level to provide the experience and the skill that is required to undertake some of the work?”

The object was to end stage 2 power cuts. Gordhan said there were also concerns over the new Kusile and Medupi power plant projects.

Three units at Medupi and a number at Kusile were not providing the 7,800 megawatts of electricity as required.

“What we are discovering as a result of an investigation by Eskom is that the original manufacturers are doing a substandard job.

“There will be consequences for them going forward,” he said. His department had only one energy expert and the institution faced challenges in coal and diesel supply. Despite this, Gordhan said Eskom was working around the clock to prevent a dark Christmas.

To this end, power cuts were not expected between December 15 and January 15.

He has instructed the Eskom board to put together an action plan on a week-by-week basis.

“That plan must state very clearly who is taking responsibility, and what is expected in terms of assessing the key parts of the power station and where the weakness in this power station might be,” he said.

Mabuza said all South Africans were responsible for power cuts and it was a pain that the country had to bear.

“Either through our people or our government, but these are problems that we have all caused,” he said.

“There is a role that we all have to play – shareholders, providers of capital, staff, customers.

“This is the choice of pain we need to take going forward to try and put us back in a sustainable way.”

He said inadequate maintenance of power plants had added to the situation.

“We did not maintain like we should have maintained.

“Like all mechanical stuff, if you don’t maintain it, it is subject to wear and tear.”

Meanwhile, as ordinary consumers and business owners lament the rolling blackouts and debate the reasons behind it, the Middelburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry wants to know why coal is not being collected at Mpumalanga mines.

“There is no shortage of coal‚ there are about 170 coal mines that are being mined right now. There is enough coal‚” the chamber’s CEO, Anna-Marth Ott, said.

She said workers had informed her that coal was piling up at the mines. There were 170 coal mines within a 200km radius of Middelburg.

“Some of the workers are complaining that they are not getting their performance bonuses because the coal is not being collected by Eskom.

“We barely survived the previous load-shedding. We would like to get this problem solved.”

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe admitted there was a shortage of coal‚ but stressed that it was not the main reason for load-shedding.

“We are having load-shedding because there is not enough generating capacity,” he said.

“We didn’t say anything about coal. Some people have their agendas.”

He said a number of generating units were still out of service due to breakdowns.

Phasiwe said many of the mines in the Middelburg area did not supply coal to Eskom.

“She [Ott] needs to tell us who these people are that she is referring to.

“We need to know whether these are registered Eskom suppliers – if they are registered Eskom suppliers, surely then they should have a servicelevel agreement with Eskom‚” Phasiwe said.

He said some of the mines‚ unable to sell coal to markets overseas‚ possibly wanted to sell it to Eskom at higher prices.

Eskom signed 27 contracts since the beginning of 2018 to get coal to its power stations.

“You cannot just buy coal from people who say they have coal,” Phasiwe said.

“Coal has to meet a certain level of specification that Eskom wants.”

Phasiwe said maintenance teams were working hard to bring the units back to service.