Saboteurs threaten South Africa’s power supply

Pravin Gordhan

Eskom, already struggling to avoid breakdown at its plants and nationwide blackouts, has another crisis on its hands: sabotage.

The state-owned utility has reported cables being cut intentionally and rising theft at its plants, with the latest incident on Friday, according to minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan. Power cuts have become a daily occurrence over the last two weeks as South Africa heads for a record year of outages, disrupting daily life and crimping economic growth.

Eskom, which generates almost all the nation’s electricity, reported that a cable required to start and synchronise a unit was vandalised at the Hendrina coal-fired station, Gordhan, who oversees the utility, told MPs in Cape Town. Similar incidents at another plant and corruption around oil supply have directly caused recent power cuts.

The crimes reflect South Africa’s challenge in protecting its infrastructure. Incidents of cable theft that impair the state-owned rail system have also grown out of control, limiting mining exports and company profits. The tapping of pipelines for fuel and oil has resulted in spills that damage the environment.

The government has introduced interventions to strengthen security for public assets, noting an incident where Eskom had to withdraw services because violence was directed at its employees and equipment was stolen, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said on Thursday in a statement.

Eskom has missed goals towards improving the reliability of its mainly coal-fired power stations that are prone to breakdowns. The energy availability of its generation assets are at just 58%, well under its 75% target, according to Gordhan.


The worsening situation comes as South Africa sees increased demand for power during the winter months of June, July and August.

Eskom has filed charges with the police over another incident of sabotage at the Tutuka power station. There have been five such cases since March 2021, it said on Thursday in a statement. The latest acts occurred despite earlier initiatives to increase security.

The utility in the past reported significant cases of sabotage in 2018 as employees protested over wage negotiations. President Cyril Ramaphosa also said power outages in 2019 were caused by intentional acts.  — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP

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