President Cyril Ramaphosa assured the nation there would be no load shedding between next Tuesday and mid-January. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday drew a line in the sand on Eskom, instructing its executives and senior managers to cancel all leave until they have produced a clear recovery plan to stabilise electricity shortages that plunged the economy into a deep crisis this week.

Ramaphosa assured the nation that there would be no load shedding between next Tuesday and mid-January, following his marathon meeting with the struggling utility’s top brass.

He said Eskom presented him with an emergency plan to deal with power cuts during the period.

“All executives must remain in place, and all key managers must remain in place to make sure we do not have load shedding,” Ramaphosa said.

“We felt we need to have an emergency recovery plan that is going to make sure we get rid of load shedding, and management has given us an assurance they are trying to stabilise the system and get more of the megawatts that we lost to be restored.

“They have given us an assurance that from December 17 right up to January 13 we should not be in a position to have any form of load shedding. And going right through to March, they will be seeing to do everything they can to restore the stability of the network.” 

Eskom this week ramped up its rotational load shedding to an unprecedented Stage 6 after losing capacity at Medupi coal-fired power station, while coal stockpiles and coal mines were flooded in Mpumalanga.

Ramaphosa said that besides maintenance and ageing infrastructure at power stations, Eskom told him there was an act of sabotage at its Tutuka power station in Mpumalanga, that led to the disconnection of 2 000MW while the utility was dealing with Stage 2 and Stage 4 load shedding.

“I have directed that the acts of sabotage must be investigated, and we must immediately work with the SA Police Service and our intelligence services as well, to find out exactly how anyone within Eskom could have disconnected the instrument that has led to the loss of 2 000MW,” he said. 

“We want security to be increased with immediate effect so that we have the whole electricity system under constant surveillance so no one ever gets an opportunity to embark on acts of sabotage like we have now.”

Ramaphosa, who had to cut short his state visit to Egypt to address the power cuts, also lashed out at the slow response by the leadership of Eskom.

He said the government’s assessment of the reasons given by Eskom for load shedding were unsatisfactory, even though he applauded management, saying they have done their best to manage the crisis. 

He criticised Eskom’s leadership for failing to act with what he called the required urgency to prevent this week’s crisis.

“They need to be more agile, and they need to underpin what they do with greater urgency and be able to anticipate some of these breakages,” Ramaphosa said.

“One of the things we observed is the maintenance process of our fleet is rather slow, and it is not as deep as it should be, because maintenance is one of the key problems that faces us, particularly due to the fact we are dealing with an ageing fleet. 

“Therefore we need to be more proactive.”

The proposals the Eskom leadership submitted to the government include an increased capacity of 5 000 more megawatts in order to maintain breakdowns at power stations, floating generators, and self-generation to help relieve pressure on the national grid.

Eskom chief operations officer Jan Oberholzer said the power utility was facing a tough situation where it had to choose which units to maintain while keeping the lights on.

“We have a system that is constrained, so we do not have the luxury to take a unit out and maintain it. We have to take it out, maintain it and replace it,” he said. 

BUSINESS REPORT

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa briefs the media on the outcome of his meeting yesterday with Eskom’s board and management. Ramaphosa said Eskom has assured him that there will be no load shedding from December 17 to January 13.  |  Jairus Mmutle GCIS