Ravi Mackenjee
Ravi Mackenjee

Eskom simply has no clue…or does it?

Eskom. Just mentioning the name results in a flurry of negative emotions coursing through the veins of just about every South African. This energy crisis is probably the single most devastating event in the past 20 years, it’s destroying the confidence of the country as a whole and places our entire economy in a chokehold.

There is significant mistrust regarding Eskom’s reaction to the crisis and the plans in place to solve the power woes. Part of this is caused by the fact that senior management at Eskom is either completely clueless, or even worse, well aware of the exact state of the grid, but cannot — for the sake of appearances — admit to the truly dire straits we are faced with.

The manner in which the “controlled blackouts” are handled leaves much to be desired. My initial opinion of the people who were saying Eskom “was not following the schedule” or “not keeping to its own timings” or simply “targeting some areas and ignoring others”, was that they were probably misreading the schedules or simply having a bad day and venting (not without reason) at Eskom …

Until it was my turn to experience the very same.

Does Eskom honestly believe that nobody notices those middle-of-the-night, unannounced, clandestine and random three-hour power cuts? Or the schedules that change from one day to the next? Or the schedule that says power will be cut at 4pm only for you to lose power an hour before?

Another speculation is that some areas don’t ever seem to have cuts while others always do. Which would irk anybody experiencing regular cuts to no end. So I simply checked the schedules and realised that some areas do in fact seem to be targeted more than others. The more recent schedules include stages one to four but stages one and two have a much greater frequency and duration of power cuts than previous schedules. Keeping the description the same but increasing the severity of the cuts reeks of dishonesty and further incenses people.

When Eskom is unable to keep to its own schedule, or institute a power cut and make the announcement an hour post-event or even worse, flit from stage 1 to stage 2 and then back again demonstrates only one thing — panic! To me, it seems the powers that be are either incapable of short-term planning (we are well aware of their ineptitude at long-term planning) or that they do not have any idea as to what is going on.

Eskom has a generating capacity of just over 41 000MW, yet is struggling to generate 28 000MW, without the use of very expensive open cycle gas turbines, which is only two thirds of the total capacity, and deal with any spikes during the peak hours. When Eskom’s spin doctors state that 96% of the country is receiving power at any given time, this means that 4% of the viable generating capacity (28 000MW) is not met. Which is just over 1 000MW — in other words stage 1 load shedding. This means that we as electricity consumers are faced with between 10% to 15% (2.5 hours of 24 hours or 4 hours of a 24-hour period — depending on where you live) of our day without power.

The Mozal smelter that Eskom provides subsidised power to in Mozambique consumes up to 1 000MW of power. The smelter at Richards Bay, Hillside, which also has subsidised power is another huge electricity consumer. Why is it that these two smelters are allowed to hold the entire country to ransom? Yes, they have created about 3 000 jobs and contribute R1 billion to the tax coffers, but what about the rest of us that contribute in totality 200 times this to the government coffers? Why do we suffer while these smelters continue to operate? What secret deals and contracts are in place that we know nothing about? Why is the government so determined to maintain control of electricity supply in the country? Privatised firms do a much better job of running things. Then again, we run the risk of things being run into the ground with tendering processes, corruption and kickbacks.

Furthermore, the cracked silo and the collapsed silo at Majuba precipitated the recent load-shedding crisis. Where is the investigation into what happened? Silos generally have a lifespan of 50 years. These were built 21 years ago. Why is there so little accountability and what is being done to ensure that Majuba functions at full capacity? We still have no clear path forward, apart from Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown informing us of three more years of load shedding. Why are there so many delays at Medupi? How is it possible that a union strike at Medupi goes on for more than seven weeks at the cost of the entire economy as a whole?

The so-called “maintenance festivals” that take place mean what exactly? I wonder whether Eskom understands what maintenance is? Repairing equipment is NOT maintenance! It appears that Eskom has been putting a plaster on a festering wound for far too long. Time for the government, the Eskom executives and Cyril Ramaphosa’s “war room” to start providing us with tangible solutions and not cover their own interests at the expense of the citizenry. We require genuine transparency — not being fed morsels of information in this condescending, “need to know” manner that the government is so fond of doing. There are more questions than answers, but I do believe that the government and Eskom, together with BHP Billiton, need to be providing us with clear-cut answers. Perhaps a commission of inquiry, with unfettered media access will be the key.

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