Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter said President Cyril Ramaphosa provided false information to the nation about the real cause of stage 6 load-shedding in 2019.
In his book, Truth to Power, De Ruyter recalled the shock in December 2019 when South Africa was hit by stage 6 load-shedding for the first time.
It was such a disaster that Ramaphosa cut short his Egypt trip to attend to the growing power crisis at home.
The president, joined by former deputy president David Mabuza, visited Eskom executives at Megawatt Park to discuss what happened.
At the media conference after the meeting, Ramaphosa dropped a bombshell that Eskom’s top brass did not expect.
He told South Africans that sabotage was to blame for the significant load-shedding the country was experiencing.
“What has also come out as a great concern is that there has been a measure of sabotage, sabotage that has led to the loss during this period of 2,000MW,” the president said.
“Someone in the Eskom system disconnected one of the instruments that finally led to one of the boilers tripping and us losing as much as 2,000MW.”
Eskom chairman and acting CEO, Jabo Mabuza, and chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer, were astonished by Ramaphosa’s claim. It was simply not true.
The true reason was Eskom’s incompetence. Heavy rains on the Highveld and over Lephalale in Limpopo, where the Medupi and Matimba were located, caused problems with wet coal.
“A large part of Eskom’s coal stockpiles had become too wet to be transported effectively on conveyor belts and too wet to burn,” De Ruyter wrote.
“Somehow, the president had been brought under a disastrous misapprehension,” he added.
Mabuza and Oberholzer had to backpedal and walk a fine line to correct the lie without embarrassing the president.
They had to “explain that there was no firm evidence of sabotage when interrogated by a sceptical media”, De Ruyter said.
“Contradicting the president is a delicate exercise at the best of times, performed only by the brave,” he said.
“Amid stage 6 load-shedding, with the public baying for blood, it would not be politically possible to throw the president under the bus.”
The former Eskom CEO said sabotage at power stations is real. However, it can be tricky, sometimes impossible, to distinguish it from mere incompetence.
“Politically, admitting incompetence was deeply unpalatable,” he added.
Following the stage 6 power cuts and Ramaphosa’s misinformation, load-shedding had assumed an entirely new and more sinister meaning in the minds of South Africans.
De Ruyter’s book Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom is available at bookstores country-wide.