Eskom insiders have revealed that politics, poorly skilled staff, a lack of training, affirmative action, poor budgeting, and corruption are the real reasons for the collapse at Eskom.
In 2022, South Africans endured the worst load-shedding the country has ever seen, and many experts warned the situation is set to get worse.
It flies in the face of Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter’s promise that they would “significantly reduce” load-shedding from September 2021.
When he took office, De Ruyter asked South Africans to tolerate higher levels of load-shedding during eighteen months of extensive maintenance.
When the day of reckoning came, Eskom failed miserably. Not only did load-shedding increase, but it reached levels never seen before.
Eskom continues to use ageing power stations as an excuse for escalating load-shedding, but it is clearly not the only cause of the growing problems at the power utility.
It raises the question of what is truly happening at Eskom and why the situation is deteriorating so rapidly.
Daily Investor gathered information from numerous sources, including current and former executives, who painted a dismal picture of the power utility.
They said Eskom is not honest with the public about their problems and what is needed to resolve them.
Here is a list of issues that experts said are hurting Eskom and preventing it from stopping load-shedding:
- Political interference and a lack of political will to fix Eskom are at the root of the problems.
- Poor employees and a lack of skills at all levels are behind most of the breakdowns and poor maintenance at Eskom’s power plants.
- Eskom defunded its engineering internship programmes which were needed to ensure junior technical staff received the necessary training to be productive. New employees are thrown in at the deep end, which causes problems.
- Little or no action is taken against poor-performing employees. Employees are often on paid suspensions for months when action is taken because of serious misconduct.
- Serious criminality in several of Eskom’s operations created a situation where skilled workers chose to work elsewhere.
- Eskom maintains aggressive affirmative action and transformation policies, preventing good staff members from being promoted to positions that will benefit the company.
- Eskom is cutting the budget for important projects, including maintenance and refurbishments, which will worsen load-shedding.
- Corrupt networks continue to exist at Eskom, with politically connected employees facilitating the corruption.
- Eskom is forced to use suppliers that struggle to deliver equipment for maintenance and upkeep at power stations. It also significantly increases the price of products and services.
According to many experts, these factors are not properly addressed at Eskom and contribute to the worsening load-shedding.
Political will stands in the way of change
Sakeliga CEO Piet le Roux told the Sunday Times that politics, ideology, vested interests, and executive incapacity are blocking quick and easy solutions to the electricity crisis.
Connie Mulder, the head of Solidarity’s research institute, agrees with Le Roux, saying political will stands in the way of any change that will reap fruit at Eskom and the country’s energy landscape.
“Politicians and their friends scrambled for too long to line their own pockets and now need to scramble to manage the damage they have caused,” he said.
Mulder added that virtue signalling in the form of a new board would do little to change the pace of things at Eskom.
There should be a clear change in the directive to effectively manage and repair an ageing coal fleet whilst transitioning out of the state-owned, centralized electricity-generation model.
“The future of energy in South Africa lies in decentralized, privatized generation and distribution,” he said. “The single biggest reason Eskom is in this dire position is government interference.”
Eskom has been seen as a state department with political goals rather than a company that sells electricity.
Despite repeated warnings by engineers of an energy crisis, bureaucrats chose to ignore, and even inflame, the situation.
This malaise led to the phenomenon of state capture, where Eskom was not only rendered ineffective but actively looted.
Skills shortage at Eskom
Eskom’s skills shortage is a compounded problem, Mulder told Daily Investor.
Eskom initiated programmes that led to white engineers and skilled artisans taking early retirement to create space for a more transformed workforce.
It created a massive gap in their institutional knowledge, resulting in skills not being transferred successfully.
Additionally, years of mismanagement and corruption have created an environment where many skilled individuals no longer want to work at Eskom.
Their skills and voices are valued more in the international private sector, so they gravitate towards that.
Another problem is the consistent focus on transforming the workforce rather than ensuring skills are recruited and retained.
It has resulted in a situation where Eskom has many employees but lacks the skills to run an ageing coal fleet.
A good example is Eskom’s call for recruit skills, where Solidarity provided an extensive list of skilled professionals, only for the company to say the list lacked transformation.
“This political interference exacerbates and inflames the situation at Eskom and leaves the country in the dark,” Mulder said.
He added that the serious criminality in several of Eskom’s operations created a situation where many skilled workers chose to work elsewhere.
How to fix Eskom
Solidarity made a few suggestions to the government to fix Eskom and alleviate the electricity crisis in South Africa.
- Eskom needs to decentralize power production as soon as possible, as private generation is the future of energy in South Africa.
- Get rid of building limitations for independent producers of renewable energy and get rid of RMIPPPP.
- Increase education in the renewable energy and battery technology sector. We will need many more skilled artisans and engineers to design, install and maintain the massive amounts of small-scale generation projects.
- Implement schemes that will make it worthwhile for South Africans to produce an excess of power that can be funnelled back into the grid.
People close to Eskom’s power generation division added that:
- Get all original equipment manufacturers (OEM) around a table and sign agreements with them to do maintenance, refurbish, and fix power stations.
- The agreements should include bonuses with improved reliability and penalties if there are breakdowns.
Most experts said these interventions would serve South Africa and Eskom much better than seen previously.