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Oberholzer’s abrupt departure risks time critical projects

Eskom’s outgoing COO Jan Oberholzer.

Eskom’s outgoing COO Jan Oberholzer.

Published Jul 18, 2023


The abrupt departure of Eskom's former Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer, two months into a two year contract extension to oversee four time critical projects at the utility, belies the "by mutual agreement" in Eskom's press statement, Energy Expert and Publisher Chris Yelland said.

Oberholzer who officially retired in April this year, had been retained on a two year contract to oversee Kusile Power Stations units 1, 2 and 3, which were shutdown because of flue duct problems, fixing for commissioning next year of Medupi Unit 4 generation unit which blew up in 2021 after a hydrogen mix up, the return to service of Koeberg Nuclear Plants units one and two which are undergoing life extension for the next 20 years.

Eskom announced late Monday that it and Oberholzer were parting ways by mutual agreement, with his last day with Eskom being the 31st of July.

"Eskom expresses gratitude to Mr Jan Oberholzer for his dedicated service, expertise and valuable contributions during his tenure. We wish him well in his future endeavours. Mr Oberholzer was on a fixed-term contract to provide support to the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station long-term operation (LTO) and Kusile Power Station projects,' Eskom said in a statement.

Yelland said Oberholzer's departure added risk to Eskom's time critical projects, there also being the possibility that Eskom had retained Oberholzer because it lacked the internal capacity.

"Oberholzer cutting all ties with Eskom immediately indicates a dispute. The statement hides the underlying tensions between the Chairman (Mpho Makwana) and the Board that they no longer wanted him there. They must have exerted a lot of pressure and he decided he did not want this anymore. The dispute is not yet in the public domain," Yelland observed.

Oberholzer's departure follows an equally unceremonious exit of Chief Executive Officer André de Ruyter early this year.

An at times cryptic public speaker, Oberholzer has been quoted warning that (running) Eskom was akin to operating a car without proper maintenance.

He has said Eskom kept engaging the accelerator, constantly keeping it pressed to the floor despite failing to conduct proper maintenance. It simply does not remedy Eskom's ailing predicament in any way. This band-aid “solution” does nothing to address the deep-rooted problems that plague Eskom.

It is merely a facade, concealing the true extent of the crisis.

He also warned that South Africa still lacked a comprehensive plan to prevent load-shedding. “South Africa’s failure to develop a plan to avoid future load-shedding is concerning.”

It’s essential for policymakers to accurately predict demand in the short-term and long-term, from the next three months to 50 years ahead.

He has said that despite the critical role Eskom played in the energy sector, the energy crisis was a collective challenge that required collaboration among all stakeholders and highlighted the need to transition from coal, which has long been the primary energy source, to a diversified mix of alternative energy sources.

Trade Union Solidarity said on Tuesday it had learnt with dismay about Oberholzer’s departure from Eskom after years of selfless service in extremely difficult conditions.

Solidarity’s chief executive, Dr Dirk Hermann, expressed regret at the news of Oberholzer’s sudden departure.

"Jan Oberholzer is a modern-day hero and someone whose role will still be appreciated throughout history," Hermann said.

Oberholzer’s time at the power utility was characterised by constant major challenges. That is precisely why his knowledge and input were so vital.

"He was an Eskomite through and through. His technical knowledge came at the right time to avoid implosion at Eskom. He could stem the speed of deterioration at Eskom.

"It is a pity that it is now coming to an end," Hermann said.