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‘Switching off the lights subjects poor people in townships to indiscriminate blackouts coated as load reductions’ – Eskom executive

Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter has made a U-turn after committing to the country that he would execute the Reliability Maintenance Recovery plan (RMR) in 18 months time and reduce load shedding. Picture: Supplied.

Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter has made a U-turn after committing to the country that he would execute the Reliability Maintenance Recovery plan (RMR) in 18 months time and reduce load shedding. Picture: Supplied.

Published May 19, 2022

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Durban - Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has made a U-turn after promising the country that he would execute the Reliability Maintenance Recovery plan (RMR) in 18 months and reduce load shedding.

Soon after taking over as CEO in January 2020, De Ruyter told the country that he had a plan to reduce load shedding within 18 months.

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However, the electricity crisis has deepened under his leadership, and the embattled CEO has now changed his tune and said that RMR was an “ongoing” process.

De Ruyter’s tone changed as the Daily News pressed him for his response on why the entity was constantly switching off the lights, particularly in the townships, leaving these areas in the dark.

De Ruyter stated that consistent blackouts were a result of poor management decisions regarding maintenance over a number of years.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha told the publication that load reduction was implemented in areas where the theft of electricity was rife.

“This happens through illegal connections and tampering with Eskom’s infrastructure. The abuse of electricity that results from this theft causes damage to infrastructure such as transformers and mini sub-stations.

“Eskom’s response is to implement load reductions in these areas to arrest the destruction of infrastructure, which deprives law-abiding and paying customers of electricity in these areas while costing Eskom billions of rand in damaged infrastructure and lost sales,” he said.

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Mantshantsha said: “Eskom’s electricity supply networks were designed for a specific amount of demand. Load reduction is implemented to manage these risks.”

However, an Eskom executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, challenged the entity, and said that switching off the lights subjected black people in townships to “indiscriminate blackouts coated as load reductions”.

“It would have been more respecting and fair to these communities if Eskom had shared data supporting their alleged illegal connections, similar to the data they share pertaining to performance,” said the Eskom executive.

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Energy expert and former Eskom executive Ted Blom lashed out at the entity and said that the executives at the power utility were being “frugal with the truth”.

“If it is dangerous to supply power during peak hours or because of a power shortage, then by deduction, it must still be dangerous for the rest of the day as well. So they are just lying to cover up the fact that they have been caught with their pants around their ankles,” said Blom.

Bobby Peek, a commissioner at the Presidential Climate Commission and director at groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa, said: “Eskom is penalising the poor for its failure to provide the solution and supply electricity.”

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Energy expert Adil Nchabeleng criticised the entity for taking electricity capacity from the townships to feed the rich in the suburban areas.

“It is a smart way of justifying their failure – it is an apartheid-style move where black people were not even supplied electricity. The only time cables are stolen is when the power is off, so how do they steal electricity when the cables carry energy?

“If electricity theft was an issue then the whole country would be in the dark. The lack of electricity is a threat to the economy and the grid as it increases cable theft. What is worse is that they cut electricity without even informing these people in townships and rural areas.

“It is an utter lie that they are trying to prevent electricity theft. If they want to blame it on theft, then why not introduce a meter box that cannot be tampered with.

“The theft of power is encouraged by the entity’s failure to supply electricity,” said Nchabeleng.

On April 29, the University of Johannesburg's Centre for Sociological Research and Practice (CSRP) released a research report exploring the experiences, responses and solutions in Soweto to the energy crisis in South Africa.

In a scathing 83-page report titled “Energy racism: The electricity crisis in South Africa”, the report found that De Ruyter had implemented “racist” policies targeting black working-class communities that bore the burden of the electricity crisis.

“Starting during the cold, Covid-19-restricted winter of 2020, he imposed policies even more biased in race-class terms, especially ‘load reduction’, and became less willing to cross-subsidise power to meet poor people’s needs.

“Under the De Ruyter administration, an apartheid-style collective punishment strategy began – ‘load reduction.’ After six months on the job, De Ruyter began mass disconnections in Soweto and many other areas – including bankrupt dorpies – penalising all residents and businesses, even those who had paid their bills,” read the UJ report.

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