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Boss of South African power utility Eskom says sabotage is hurting supply

By Jean-Jacques Cornish - RFI
South Africa REUTERS - Siphiwe Sibeko
NOV 21, 2021 LISTEN
REUTERS - Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa's power parastatal authority Eskom, the electricity company, has said for the first time it has clear evidence of sabotage affecting the country's doddering electricity supply. 

Supports were cut causing a pylon to topple near the Lethabo power station in the northern Free State, close to the border with South Africa's heartland Gauteng province.

It took nine hours to restore power from the facility.

Andrè de Ruyter, Eskom's chief executive, said this was clear evidence of an orchestrated campaign to sabotage the power utility struggling to supply the nation's energy needs.

He did not indicate any motive for the action or identify any perpetrators.

De Ruyter has been cautious in the past about discussing inexplicable breakdowns, some at new generating facilities, which have plunged the country into the dark and driven away potential investors.

Powerful past

Post-apartheid South Africa drew industrial investment with a supply of cheap and efficient electricity that enabled the construction of heavy users such as aluminum smelters.

It sold electricity to neighbouring states, effectively powering the region.

Today, poor maintenance of infrastructure, overstaffing and paying exorbitant salaries has mean the power supply is failing to meet its requirements.

Vast areas of the country, particularly in the predominantly black urban townships, illicitly and dangerously connect to the power grid.

Frequent cuts 

South Africans are living with frequent power cuts euphemistically referred to as "load shedding".

Analysts say sabotaging Eskom could be the work of elements bent on damaging the efforts by President Cyril Ramaphosa to reinvigorate the faltering post-Covid economy.

Business mogul de Ruyter has been put in charge of the parastatal and has drawn criticism for the tough measures he is taking to restore its capacity.

Inevitably his opponents, including those who have been responsible for hamstringing Eskom, have played the race card against the white CEO.

Deputy President David Mabuza has leapt to support de Ruyter, saying he is doing his best to restore power to the nation, adding that Eskom is lucky to have a man like him at the helm.

Calling for investment in new power stations. Mabuza insisted: “Eskom is alive.”

He  said de Ruyter was best placed to revive the indebted and ailing entity.

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