Eskom load shedding: Cyril Ramaphosa blames policy missteps, state capture

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Siyavuya Mzantsi, Mashudu Sadike and Okuhle Hlati

Pretoria – President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africans owe their support to the Eskom board and management as they work to turn the utility around and despite its failure to keep the lights on all the time.

Hours after Ramaphosa made these remarks in his weekly newsletter yesterday, Eskom urged the public to reduce the consumption of electricity as the power system was severely constrained due to the delay in returning units to service and the loss of multiple generation units.

Throwing his weight behind the Eskom board and executive, Ramaphosa again blamed policy missteps and the impact of state capture over many years for the regular load shedding in the country. However, he did not mention what role he had played when then President Jacob Zuma assigned him the responsibility of leading the Eskom war room in 2015.

Zuma tasked Ramaphosa with overseeing the turnaround of Eskom in what was labelled the “war room,” made up of the Departments of Energy, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Public Enterprises, National Treasury, Economic Development, Water and Sanitation and Eskom, as well as technical officials. Their role was to look into Eskom’s short and long-term energy challenges.

But in his newsletter, Ramaphosa blamed alleged state capture. “This (policy missteps and the impact of state capture) is the situation that we have confronted since the start of this administration and that we are all working to fix. In doing so, we owe the board and management of Eskom our full support as they work to turn the utility around. They have to keep the lights on while rebuilding Eskom as a viable entity that fulfils its developmental mandate as a state-owned enterprise, and positioning it for a just energy transition,” he said.

“It may be difficult to imagine a future without load shedding, but the steps we are taking now will ensure that we get there. The process of structural reform this administration embarked on in 2018 will have a far-reaching impact on the South African energy landscape, even if the changes will take time to bear fruit,” he said. Ramaphosa said the existing power stations were not maintained properly for years particularly as these plants were made to “run harder” to meet the country’s energy needs.

“We are doing everything in our means to ensure that, like state capture, it soon becomes a thing of the past. It is difficult to expect the millions of South Africans grappling with the inconvenience and hardship caused by intermittent power outages to remain patient as we resolve these long standing challenges. It is difficult to convince them, as they sit in the dark, that we are making progress towards a secure and reliable supply of electricity. But the reality is that the energy landscape is being transformed, the problems at Eskom are steadily being addressed and substantial new energy generation capacity is being built. It is difficult and unacceptable for South Africans to endure load shedding.”

Responding to Ramaphosa’s claims, former Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko said the president’s remarks were based on gossip rather than facts.

“President Ramaphosa is addressing the nation based on gossip rather than on audited financial statements of Eskom. The statement by President Ramaphosa that state capture and lack of planned maintenance are responsible for current load shedding incidents is not based on the audited Eskom financial statements and it is regrettable,“ Koko said yesterday.

“The audited Eskom financial statements clearly show that the increase in planned maintenance in 2015 was sustained until 2018 when we left Eskom.

“As a matter of fact the planned maintenance in 2016 was 13% and it remains the highest in the recorded history of Eskom.”

Koko said the audited financial statements also show that in the years considered to be the peak of state capture, Eskom kept the lights on without fail and without burning diesel.

“In 2017 Eskom only used 10 million litres of diesel in a year compared to the current 48.5 million litres in a month.”

Energy Economist Lungile Mashele said: “I am glad the president has taken responsibility for government failures over the last 20 years. However this will not protect South Africans from a cold and dark winter in 2022. South Africans need action.

“The projects mentioned by the president will only come online in 2024 provided that no legal challenges or procurement delays are experienced. Projects RMIPPPP (Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme) and Round 5 are yet to close despite bid submission being in 2021.

Eskom did not address the issue yesterday, only saying they had constructive and robust engagements with Scopa during its follow-up oversight visit to some of Eskom’s facilities undertaken from April 20-22.

Pretoria News