Johannesburg - Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter’s incompetence is the reason the country has been plunged into darkness, and calls for his resignation intensified this week as South Africans grappled with the challenges of being in the dark for up to eight hours a day in some areas.
Eskom implemented stage-6 load shedding from Tuesday until Friday morning.
Labour unions and political analysts said De Ruyter's term in office had been a disaster. They are accusing De Ruyter of deliberately sabotaging the utility to push for independent power producers.
But De Ruyter has put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the striking workers and on Friday said he would take action against them for embarking on an illegal strike.
Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha insisted the ramping-up of load shedding to stage 6 was due to unlawful and unprotected labour action.
Eskom workers have been on an unprotected strike – demanding a minimum and maximum 8% and 12% wage increase, which caused widespread disruption to Eskom's power plants – and this is the reason, according to De Ruyter, that the country was plunged further into stage-6 load shedding.
This is the second time South Africa has been plunged into darkness for up to eight hours a day. The first stage-6 load shedding was implemented on December 9, 2019. De Ruyter was appointed Eskom CEO in January of that year.
Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola responded that it was shocking that Eskom blamed the employees' strike for De Ruyter's incompetence. She said the CSIR confirmed that the country had experienced the worst load shedding under De Ruyter. Hlubi-Majola added that it was shocking that no one had called De Ruyter to account.
In its presentation in Parliament on March 15 this year, the CSIR said that 2021 was the worst year on record for load shedding, with 1 169 hours of outages and 2 522 GWh of energy shed. It added that 2022 was already off to a poor start, with 261 hours of outages to date and 55 GWh of energy shed.
"We want to be very clear: we dismiss with contempt the allegations that workers at Eskom are responsible for stage 6 when they had it (load shedding) under de Ruyter in December 2019. Again, we had already had stage 4 before the workers' strike. The CSIR has also confirmed that we experienced the worst load shedding in history since that man took over," said Hlubi-Majola.
Hlubi-Majola has alleged that De Ruyter has an agenda to privatise Eskom. She said the plan was to close power stations and replace them with renewable energy from independent power producers. Hlubi-Majola added that this was the reason De Ruyter was never held accountable for the mess at Eskom.
The workers’ strike is being used as a scapegoat to divert public attention from the real issues faced by Eskom, according to the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Sociological Research and Practice.
"Eskom has long been experiencing problems due to mismanagement, corruption and lack of vision. There have been frequent breakdowns of its units due to poor maintenance. Load shedding has resulted in calls for (independent power producers), so that they can generate power from renewable energy sources. This will advance the government's neoliberal policies and the agenda of self-enrichment and entrepreneurship, which has ruined Eskom. The capitalist elite is already positioning themselves to benefit from these deals," the statement said.
Eskom’s former chief executive Matshela Koko said De Ruyter's term at the helm of the power utility had proven to be a calamity. He said De Ruyter was allowed to escape his failure because of white privilege.
"Eskom planned maintenance as measured by the planned capability loss factor in the last 10 years averaged 10.5% against a target of 10%. This means Eskom has no money problems to execute the required maintenance. It also means Eskom is doing more maintenance than planned, but gets very little out of that.
“The plant breakdowns of 17 000MW are too high for a planned capacility loss factor of 10.5%. This is a combination of poorly scoped outage works and poor workmanship. Eskom simply lacks operational discipline," Koko said.
Koko added that he was under the impression that the combination of Jabu Mabuza, Phakamani Hadebe and Jan Oberholzer had been a disaster, and that nothing could get worse than that, but he had been proven wrong.
Black Business Council chief executive Kganki Matabane also called for De Ruyter and his board to leave the power utility.
Matabane said the continual rolling blackouts and load shedding by De Ruyter, including moving the country to stage 6, giving a plethora of excuses, was unacceptable for a struggling economy trying to recover from the impact of Covid-19.
"Until and unless our government, as shareholders, takes the drastic steps to remove the incompetent management and inadequate board of Eskom, the country must forget about any prospect of economic recovery. We call upon President Cyril Ramaphosa to do the right thing if he does not want to be remembered as the president who brought our economy to its knees," Matabane added.
Political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said De Ruyter had proven he was clueless. Seepe added that the only thing De Ruyter seemed capable of was destroying Eskom. He said his performance so far had given credence to the view that he was bought in for that purpose.
"We must also remind ourselves that load shedding came back when Ramaphosa took over the reins as president of the country. When assuming office, he promised our electricity challenges would be solved in about 18 months. Four years later, he has not changed gears," said Seepe.
He added that De Ruyter signified a South African problem where black people were excessively tolerant of the incompetence of whites. He said if De Ruyter had not been white, society would have embarked on protest action by now.
"But in our country, white incompetence is explained away and often blamed on black people. Whatever can be said of Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko will not remove the fact that during their tenure at Eskom we experienced no load shedding," said Seepe.
Another political analyst, Dr Ralph Mathekga, said the stage-6 load shedding had shown the collapse that had taken place at Eskom, adding that the government remained silent because De Ruyter was a favourite.
"The problem is there to speak for itself. They are struggling to stabilise the problem. For me, if you are doing well in electricity, you will have the lights on. They (the government) are not in control, but the situation is just deteriorating."
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said the president was leading the response to the current energy crisis. He said the outcomes of discussions that were already under way would be communicated to the public.