Energy

Politics behind Eskom’s collapse

Eskom’s management and lack of technical skills play an important part in the utility’s failures, but the political environment surrounding the utility is the root cause of its collapse.

This is the view of Truth and Energy civil nuclear engineer Hugo Kruger, who told SABC News that the recent report on Eskom compiled by German engineers highlighted the root cause of load-shedding in South Africa.

The National Treasury commissioned a report from German consultancy group VGBE Energy to analyse the performance of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants and recommend ways to improve them. 

The group comprised German engineers with extensive experience running coal-fired power plants and spent four and a half months studying South Africa’s ailing power utility. 

They pointed to several overarching issues, such as Eskom’s complex management system, inadequate maintenance, and low staff morale, as reasons why the utility’s performance has declined. 

Another factor is the general incompetence and lack of ability to implement theoretical knowledge in practice. 

The experts focused on evaluating the competencies of the technical managers, including plant managers, operating managers, maintenance managers, engineering, and outage managers.

In addition to interviews with management, the assessment also included input from written online tests.

Throughout the assessment, the German experts noticed the impact of low morale, lack of motivation, and a heavy workload with long working hours on Eskom’s staff.  

The report read, “The competencies of the technical managers seem to be at a reasonable level, but there is greater potential for improvement.” 

“We repeatedly noticed a high degree of theoretical knowledge. However, the complex management system makes its application very difficult.” 

“The management system with its governance, structure and processes is dysfunctional and too complex.”

Andre de Ruyter Eskom
Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter

However, Kruger said the problem lies not solely with Eskom’s management but with the political management overseeing the utility.

Currently, South Africa has three ministers who oversee Eskom – Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Electricity Minister Kgosienthso Ramokgopa, and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

“You’ve got three ministers when we need one. We can’t have a minister appointing the board, setting policy, and one doing the executive’s job,” Kruger said. “That, to me, is the root cause – it is the political environment.”

In particular, Gordhan’s heavy involvement in the utility’s operations has been criticised.

Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter previously said there were many examples of Gordhan’s intervention in the utility’s day-to-day operations. The minister allegedly bypassed the former CEO, his COO, and Eskom’s head of generation.

“Whether that was to gain or verify information, I don’t know, but it made life as the responsible accounting officer quite difficult,” he said. “Many different cooks in the kitchen do not always result in a good meal.”

In 2023, there was also conflict between Gordhan and Eskom when looking for De Ruyter’s replacement.

Before the appointment of Dan Marokane as CEO, Eskom had been without a permanent leader for months since De Ruyter resigned. 

In September 2023, Eskom’s board identified a candidate they believed suitable, but Gordhan reportedly rejected their choice. 

This caused significant frustration among the board members, with some threatening to resign if their recommendation was not approved.

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