Former President Thabo Mbeki made explosive allegations about Eskom, including that the power utility’s management deliberately caused an electricity crisis and load-shedding.
Mbeki made these allegations during a question-and-answer session at the Thabo Mbeki School of Public and International Affairs.
The former president said the first time South Africa experienced a national electricity shutdown, known as load-shedding, was in January 2008.
“It was a national shutdown. The mines closed for a whole week. It was a serious crisis,” Mbeki told delegates.
“The argument was that Eskom had told the government in 1998 that there must be investment in new generation capacity and infrastructure.”
“The narrative was that the government did not listen, which caused the blackouts in January 2008. That story was false. That story was cooked up.”
He said the true reason for load-shedding in January 2008 was because the people in charge of the power stations did not do what they were supposed to do – replenish coal.
“The power stations ran out of coal. It was not because there was no coal in the country. The people inside Eskom decided ‘let’s shut it down’,” Mbeki said.
“The lie was told that the government was to blame for load-shedding because of a lack of investment. It was not true.”
He added that when Brian Molefe was appointed as Eskom’s chief executive, load-shedding came to an end.
He credited Molefe and his colleagues for focusing on power station maintenance, improving reliability, and ending load-shedding.
Mbeki said many commentators “would find many different reasons for the resolution of load-shedding during Molefe’s time as CEO instead of looking at maintenance”.
After Molefe left, load-shedding returned. Mbeki said it was because the new Eskom management “did not behave like Brian Molefe behaved”.
Mbeki said the new Eskom leadership deliberately did not maintain the power stations, which caused breakdowns and the return of rotational power cuts.
He further alleged that black economic empowerment requirements were used to deliberately delay completing the Kusile power station on time.
“Seven years after the construction of the Kusile power station started, there was not a single megawatt of electricity generated,” he said.
Eskom then contracted an Indian company to help build Kusile. They completed the first unit in a much shorter time than expected.
Mbeki questioned how the Indian company could complete the project so quickly when the previous contractors had not made much progress in seven years.
“The people working in Kusile’s construction decided not to use the available knowledge until the Indians came in,” he said.
Because of their exceptional performance, the Indian company expected its contract to be extended to construct the other units. This was not the case.
“A strange thing happened. Eskom said it will only extend the contract on condition that the Indian company gets a BEE partner,” he said.
The company did not understand the BEE requirements, and a dispute around this issue resulted in the termination of the contract. “To this day, Kusile is still not finished,” Mbeki said.
“This is why I am saying it is deliberate. It is people who wanted to produce this electricity crisis,” Mbeki alleged.
He equated Eskom’s problems to the destruction of the SA Revenue Service under former president Jacob Zuma.
“It is the same as the people who created a revenue crisis through the destruction of SARS,” he said.
He said it is not an accident that all state institutions, including the SA Police Service, the NPA, and Transnet, are systematically getting weaker.
“There is a systematic process to ensure that the democratic republic does not succeed,” Mbeki said.