The deployment of 880 soldiers to protect Eskom’s assets over the next six months will cost taxpayers R111 million, adding to the R146 million bill they footed for deployment at the utility earlier this year.
President Ramaphosa wrote to the head of the National Council of Provinces to inform them that 880 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members will be deployed to help protect Eskom’s assets for the next six months.
The deployment is an extension of Operation Prosper – the initiative launched by the presidency to restore law and order in the country.
Operation Prosper was first launched in 2021 in collaboration with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to keep law and order during the 2021 July riots.
The operation was launched again in December 2022 when soldiers were deployed to four power stations to protect them from criminals.
2,700 SANDF members were previously deployed from March 17 through April 17. This was reduced to 880 who were deployed at power stations around the country until October 17.
This deployment cost taxpayers R146 million, or R165,909 per soldier and R27,651 per soldier per month.
According to the president’s latest notice, 880 members will now be deployed for operation between 18 October and 31 March 2024.
The cost of the extended deployment is estimated to be R111 million, or R125,000 per soldier.
Andre de Ruyter, the former head of South Africa’s state power utility, estimated the amount of money stolen from Eskom at R1 billion a month.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa in April announced plans to limit power cuts — including addressing criminality and reducing infrastructure sabotage at Eskom.
However, the effectiveness of deploying the army to Eskom’s stations is doubtful, and the deployment is likely to run over budget.
Former Eskom head of security Karen Pillay said earlier this year that these initiatives had not deterred brazen criminals.
Pillay said there were 35 incidents reported in March alone. “These incidents include cable theft, common theft, theft of diesel and malicious damage to property with an intent to steal”, Pillay said.
Criminals have also been targeting substations for years. City Power spent R380 million from last December until February to repair vandalised electricity infrastructure.
City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said 444 cases of cable theft were reported from December until February, an average of about five cases a day.
This occurred while over 2,000 SANDF members were deployed at Eskom.