Ghaleb Cachalia MP, DA Shadow Minister Public Enterprises Picture: Chris Collingridge/African News Agency
Ghaleb Cachalia MP, DA Shadow Minister Public Enterprises Picture: Chris Collingridge/African News Agency

18 times government misled SA about Eskom and rolling blackouts

By Opinion Time of article published Jan 24, 2021

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Ghaleb Cachalia MP, DA Shadow Minister Public Enterprises

It has been 15 years since Eskom’s rolling blackouts brought inconvenience and economic decline to South Africa. And, 15 years of repeated empty promises by an incapable ANC government vowing to fix this crisis.

Today, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will expose the 18 times the government misled South Africans on its efforts to turn things around at Eskom and to bring an end to rolling blackouts.

November 2007- Eskom says Medupi and Kusile will be completed by 2015 and will play an important role in solving South Africa's energy challenges. Current forecasts indicate that Medupi's completion date has been extended to 2021, with Kusile expected to be completed in 2023. Even so, it is unclear if these new completion dates will be met.

January 2009 - Eskom CEO Jacob Moraga says that the first unit of the Kusile coal power plant would start adding electricity to the grid in 2013. But, the first Kusile unit did not enter commercial service until August 2017, and only three of the six Kusile power stations are currently in sync with the national power grid.

July 2013 - Eskom CEO Brian Dames assured South Africans that they will not experience power cuts going forward, adding that the power utility was confident it would not resort to loadshedding.

March 2014 - The then Water and Environmental Affairs Minister says Eskom had assured the government that loadshedding was temporary. And attributes the power cuts to wet coal and handling issues, refusing to acknowledge that there was a major energy supply issue.

December 2014 - Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona claims that “There is no crisis at Eskom.” He said, it is the way Eskom gets reported on that creates the perception of a crisis.

February 2015 - Energy Department Director Wolsey Barnard tells the media that the power crisis at Eskom was expected to be resolved in 20-30 months. Barnard remains a Director at the Department of Energy till this day.

May 2015 - Eskom CEO Brian Molefe says that there would be no loadshedding during the winter season, as maintenance work was done in summer. But, it did not take long for that promise to be broken, as stage 2 load-shedding was implemented on 8 June 2015.

June 2015 - Molefe also stated on 14 June 2015 that the power utility’s new plan was “maintenance without loadshedding”. Despite this plan, Stage 1 and stage 2 loadshedding continued regularly from June to August 2015.

September 2015 - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa say “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.” [He had been tasked by Cabinet in 2014 to turnaround SOEs and was reporting on his progress to the NCOP]

May 2016 - President Jacob Zuma meets with Eskom management on 6 May 2016 and assures South Africans that they will not experience load-shedding ever again. “I am going to tell people there will never be any loadshedding, I have been here, I have seen it,” Zuma said.

August 2016 - Eskom CEO Brian Molefe confidently tells Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises that Eskom was on firm footing. “Plant availability is 80% and more, which is almost a miracle, considering where we were a year ago,” he said.

February 2019 - President Ramaphosa says during SONA that “Eskom has made much progress in implementing its nine-point plan, ensuring better maintenance of its general fleet, reducing costs and ensuring adequate reserves of coal.”

March 2019 - President Ramaphosa, says, when South Africa was hit by ongoing loadshedding again, “We are addressing the Eskom issue every day. I’m saying to the whole nation let’s not panic let us join hands, close ranks and work together. That is why we are addressing it on an urgent basis. There is nothing much more urgent than restoring the power."

April 2019 - From August 2016 until June 2018, South Africans did not suffer any loadshedding. Stage 1 loadshedding was implemented in June and July 2018, and power cuts became more frequent in November 2018. After the return of loadshedding and its acceleration in February and March 2019, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan revealed Eskom’s plan to fight loadshedding in South Africa. Gordhan said Eskom’s goal was to ensure there would be no more load-shedding from 3 April 2019. This was proven wrong when Eskom implemented stage 2 loadshedding on 16 October 2019.

June 2019 - President Ramaphosa, while responding to the SONA debate says "We want to put Eskom on a sustainable operational path and we have seen great improvements. We are closely engaged with the situation at Eskom, with the implementation of the nine-point plan, strengthening the board and setting out a road map for the future."

December 2019 - President Ramaphosa promises South Africans that there would be no loadshedding over the holiday season. Eskom implemented loadshedding on 4 January and 8 January 2020.

January 2020 - South Africa is plunged into stage 2 load shedding. This despite the President’s promise early in December 2019 that there wouldn’t be loadshedding from December 17 until January 13 after he announced that there would be no leave for Eskom’s top brass during the festive season.

February 2020 - During his SONA address, Ramaphosa promised to “fundamentally change the trajectory of energy generation” in South Africa “over the next few months”. He laid out 7 key reforms to “significantly increase generation capacity outside of Eskom” which included procuring additional power from IPPs.

The statements above are not only misleading but are proof that the President, his government and Eskom never had any political will or a clear plan to address the power crisis. Instead, they have allowed a corrosive culture of no accountability, patronage, maladministration, and corruption to bring Eskom and our country to its knees.

Now more than ever, South Africans need complete honesty from government on efforts to address the ongoing energy crisis. Especially in light of the devastating economic lockdowns which brought our economy to a grinding halt. Continued disruptive power outages could be fatal for businesses which barely survived the lockdown. We are also concerned about the impact it could have on health facilities battling to keep South Africans alive and Covid vaccine facilities.

The DA maintains that Eskom, as one giant, centrally controlled parastatal, simply does not work. We have for years proposed that Eskom be broken up into separate generation, transmission and distribution entities. The generation entity should be privatised in an effort to break Eskom’s monopoly on the production of energy, and to allow Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to compete on an equal footing in the generation sector. This will not only diversify South Africa’s energy mix, but it will also ensure a cleaner, more reliable and cheaper energy future for the country.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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