Eskom management will be working throughout the festive season to resolve the operational challenges which have resulted in stage two electricity blackouts across the country.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told media on Thursday Christmas leave for senior management has been cancelled and each would be deployed to individual power stations to assess the issues on the ground.

“We are in an emergency mode.
When you are in a crisis you deploy all your resources where they are most required, not sitting at Megawatt Park because they are in head office.
That would be irresponsible,” said Gordhan.

Gordhan told the public it could rest assured there would be no load-shedding between December 15 2018 and January 15 2019 as this is a low electricity demand period when most businesses are closed for the holidays.

“Management must assure us that they are working towards that objective,” said Gordhan.

The minister said within the next week he wants to know what the state of the utility’s power generation capacity would be between mid-January up to the end of March 2019. Ideally, there will not be stage two load shedding when South Africans have returned to work, he added.

The briefing was intended to provide clarity on why the country was experiencing blackouts and provide transparency on how the utility was resolving the problems.

Gordhan said a lot of the problems behind load shedding were historical.

Eskom currently has around 47 000 megawatts of installed capacity to provide electricity to the public against an average demand of 29 000 megawatts.  However due to planned maintenance outages in power stations, together with unpredictable breakdowns of some of its units,  the utility has not been able to meet electricity demand.

Gordhan explained that the government was concerned about the unplanned breakdowns.  These are partly attributed to the age of the power plants but also to the fact that utility has also not adequately invested in the maintenance of its generation units since 2010, particularly when it came to major repairs.

Godhan also questioned whether sabotage did not have a role to play in the current crisis.

“We are not sure yet whether there is an element of undermining of the power system as well,” said Gordhan, adding that this may be linked to vandalism during the wage strikes in the middle of the year when water plants were shut down or diesel could not reach the power stations.

Gordhan said another big issue was the Kusile and Medupi new build projects. Three units at Medupi and a number at Kusile are not providing the 7 800 megawatts of electricity into the grid as intended.

“What we are discovering as a result of an investigation by Eskom is that the original equipment manufacturers are doing a substandard job. There will be consequences for them as we go forward. Those are serious issues, these are international players who in the first instance are the main contractors and then a number of subcontractors as well.

Sub-standard work, delays, as well as a doubling of costs on the projects, has led to a ‘toxic mix”, Gordhan said, adding that “someone was making money” out of them.

He mentioned that the institution was also dealing with challenges in coal and diesel supply as well as capacity in the public enterprises department, tasked with monitoring Eskom.

Gordhan said the department only has one energy expert.

“On the one hand the public was told [two years ago] that Eskom is a top class entity,” he said. “In the meantime, all the malfeasance and mismanagement that we know about, is exactly what has been going on,” said Gordhan.

Gordhan told former executives and managers — whom he believed were fighting back against the clean up of the utility — to take their “hands-off” Eskom.

“We want to send a message [to those] who like to issue tweets, former senior managers of Eskom,” Gordhan said. “Find a job that will keep you busy … leave the Eskom board to do their [work]”

Gordhan did not mention which tweets he was referring to.