Sabotage at Eskom – or worse?

What’s news?

The country underwent another round of infuriating load shedding on Tuesday, with Eskom implementing Stage 3 load shedding. Eskom implemented load shedding on Sunday and by Monday afternoon, several generating units had unexpectedly collapsed, leading to Stage 4 load shedding. It was a drastic measure, meaning increased blackouts across the country, intended to stop the national grid from collapsing.

What does this mean?

It means Eskom’s situation is more precarious than we thought. Business Day reported on Tuesday that the massive power stations, Medupi and Kusile, are riddled with design flaws. They were supposed to add extra capacity to the system but are years behind schedule and over-budget.

We are stuck with it. Eskom’s position is unlikely to change any time, and according to Moody’s, we are pretty much reliant on it until the mid-2020s.

Why does this matter?

A lack of electricity is a massive inconvenience for everyone, and the economy as a whole. If the lights aren’t on, businesses can’t open or make money to hire new people. In a jobless economy like ours, that’s a big problem. And investors don’t want to open new businesses here because they are afraid that the lights will go out.  

What’s going on?

Everyone from labour to business and politicians now has a theory about how Eskom’s generating capacity collapsed so quickly. The National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) has received much of the blame because of its threats to stop President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans to break up Eskom into three units. Energy expert Chris Yelland said that with the union’s war talk and previous links to load shedding, it was understandable that the public was suspicious.

On Tuesday, the ANC said there were “signs of sabotage to undermine the efforts to grow the SA economy…” according to Fin24. Numsa said in a tweet that the load shedding is a ploy by Eskom to justify the unbundling of the utility into three separate units – a move which the unit is vehemently against. A spokesperson even implied that Eskom executives were profiting from load shedding.

But Business Day deputy editor Carol Paton said on Twitter that the conspiracy theories should not be believed. She said the truth was much worse.