Evidence Eskom is under attack from saboteurs, De Ruyter says

Eskom is facing deliberate acts of sabotage by unknown criminals, CEO André de Ruyter said on Friday, as he showed images of a high capacity electricity pylon toppled when all eight of its metal support stays were cut.

Struggling under a mountain of debt, state-owned Eskom regularly implements power outages that have unnerved investors and cost the the economy billions of rand in lost output.

Claims of sabotage at Eskom’s fleet of ageing coal-fired power plants supplying the bulk of South Africa’s electricity, and which are prone to mechanical breakdowns, have swirled for years, but De Ruyter’s comments on Friday were the firmest yet from a senior executive.

“The evidence does appear to be, at least prima facie, incontrovertible that there is malice afoot and that we need to take action,” he said during a media briefing.

Discovered on Wednesday evening, the toppled pylon, which showed no signs of metal fatigue or corrosion, is found along the main distribution lines feeding coal conveyor belts at the 3.7GW Lethabo plant in the Free State.

“What further arouses suspicion that this was a deliberate act of sabotage is that nothing was stolen from the site … so this was not an economic crime,” he said.

Quick action by Eskom prevented Lethabo from running out of coal, a prospect which could have worsened power cuts to stage 6, when around 6GW is shed from the national grid, versus Eskom’s nominal installed capacity of 46GW.

This supplied photo from Eskom shows a stay – a type of support for an electricity pylon – that appeared to have been cut near the Lethabo power station. This caused the pylon to fall onto another power line that was supplying backup power the station’s coal conveyor system

De Ruyter did not speculate on the motives behind the attacks, which come amid mounting criticism of Eskom management’s inability to stop power cuts.

He said Eskom was using infrared-equipped drones to help patrol strategic infrastructure but it was virtually impossible to safeguard some 390 000km of transmission and distribution lines.  — (c) 2021 Reuters

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