This interview between Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk and Eskom CEO André de Ruyter was originally recorded in Afrikaans and broadcast on RSG Geldsake. Below is the English translation.
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RYK VAN NIEKERK: At his press conference today [Friday November 19, 2021] Eskom CEO André de Ruyter bluntly announced that Eskom’s infrastructure is being sabotaged and that this is contributing to the incidence of loss of load. To back this up, he showed photographs of eight cable ties from a transmission line tower that had been cut at the Lethabo power station near Vereeniging. The tower had been toppled and this disrupted the delivery of coal to the power plant. However, Eskom staff managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and devised a plan to prevent it from disrupting the power generation of the plant. Had the station been unable to do so, this could have led to a Level 6 load shedding. Lethabo is apparently one of Eskom’s most reliable power plants.
André now joins me on the line. André, I can hardly believe a sabotage is taking place. Not that Eskom doesn’t have enough problems already. Do you have any indication of the perpetrators of this sabotage?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: Ryk, this is an extremely disappointing incident. You cannot believe that there are people in South Africa who deliberately want to cut off the electricity supply. Unfortunately, at this time we have no idea of the motive behind this, nor of those involved. We have turned the matter over to the police and they are investigating, but we have no further information at this time.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: In recent months there have been periodic breakdowns at some of its power plants. Have there been any other signs of sabotage?
Read: Eskom faces ‘deliberate’ acts of sabotage, says CEO
ANDRE DE RUYTER: Ryk, until now I have been very reluctant to use the play ‘sabotage’, because it is an emotional word with negative connotations. Often we cannot really make a distinction between the economic crime of cable theft or negligence on the part of the operators, or whether there has actually been deliberate criminal activity against the State that involves sabotage. But I think in this case it was clearly obvious that eight of these 24mm steel tie rods were cut simultaneously, with the clear intention of cutting off the coal supply for Lethabo’s electricity transmission. Obviously, this falls within the definition of “sabotage”.
It does not exclude the possibility that incidents have occurred elsewhere, but I have not found absolute evidence of sabotage in some of the other incidents. You cannot be sure if such incidents were due to negligence or criminal activity: cable theft.
This is the first case in which we have irrefutable evidence that it was an attempt to undermine Eskom’s transmission of electricity.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Eskom is a national hotspot; it is of vital importance to South Africa. How strict is your security?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: We have a fair security. We need to do more in that regard. We have launched a big campaign to get infrared equipped drones to patrol our power plants. We have had great successes in terms of arresting cable thieves. We install smart cameras that can detect suspicious behavior and report it to control centers outside Eskom. We have new and independent security companies to assist with the inspection of vehicles as well as delivery vehicles. But of course we cannot continuously monitor the 390,000 km of transmission and distribution network. This happened in a really remote area far from any settlement.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Obviously, the perpetrators knew exactly what they were doing. This is not about someone making a joke; It’s exactly what he said at the press conference – that it’s not that hard to figure out precisely how to do the least amount possible to cause the most disruption possible.
ANDRE DE RUYTER: No. It is clearly someone who knew where we were vulnerable, and what clearly indicates that this was not a financial crime is the fact that nothing was stolen. If it had been a robbery attempt, one would have expected someone to have removed something, but only the steel brackets holding the cables were cut, and one has to assume that the pylon was pushed into the other line to get them both out of the way. line. action. So yeah, it was meticulously planned.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: How good are the relationships between you, your executive team, and workers?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: I think we generally have good support from our employees. I regularly get positive feedback from them. We also communicate regularly with our employees. The relationship with some of our unions is less good. This year we implemented a 1.5% [wage] increase, which was well below the 15% demanded by two of the unions, Num and Numsa. We clearly explained to employees the reason for the lower increase, but we also communicated it directly to employees, which caused great dissatisfaction on the part of the two unions, who would have preferred to receive the message from management and communicate it to their members. in their own way. So I think the problem is not so much our relationship with the workers.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Obviously someone is unhappy. Have you or your management team received threats personally?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: Yes. In the last week I had to press criminal charges, as well as obtain an injunction against the leaders of a political party who physically threatened my family and me, which was quite unpleasant. As a result, we had to report these people and also improve our security.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: How did Eskom get into such a situation? A year ago there was a lot of optimism that now you would do the correct maintenance and that the load shedding could be reduced, but today we have a totally different scenario, with threats to you and sabotage in some of your plants. Is the situation out of control?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: I think what needs to be remembered now is the context in which these incidents take place.
Clearly, there is an entire ecosystem of stakeholder groups that over the years have become dependent on Eskom’s massive outflow of money. We are busy turning off those taps. In Tutuka we stopped the theft of 100 million rand a month.
Bethelda wiped out spare parts worth R1.3 billion at the Tutuka power plant alone. I believe that the incidents that the media have already widely reported on poor practices in purchasing items for which we have paid many times more than the prices on the open market are all examples of our closing the taps, and That would of course be, I have not made my management team or myself popular.
I think the best way to ensure that we are put under suspicion, or that our abilities are called into question, is to alter the stability of power plants in some way. Of course it is disappointing. I think we are talking about a small minority of people, but clearly people with a big impact.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: I guess the big priority now is finding these people. How do you plan to catch them? What are your plans?
ANDRE DE RUYTER: At this point we are in talks with the police authorities. We, of course, do not have powers of arrest; We can do certain security investigations, we can do forensic examinations, but ultimately we also rely heavily on the country’s security agencies and government institutions to make their contribution.
Earlier today, I appealed to the State Security Agency to assist me by proactively gathering intelligence so that we can ensure that we can intercept this type of behavior before it occurs.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: André, thank you very much for your time and strength to [you] go ahead. Looks like your hands are full.
ANDRE DE RUYTER: Thank you very much, Ryk.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: That was the CEO of Eskom, André de Ruyter.