Eskom says it plans to lift Stage 2 power outages on Thursday evening at 21:00 to give South Africans a break. However this reprieve will be short lived as those who go to bed with the option of switching their lights off at night may be disappointed when they wake up, as the power utility plans to resume Stage 1 blackouts at 05:00 on Friday morning.
Eskom’s CEO André de Ruyter said in a media briefing on Thursday that South Africans owe their night with lights to several units – including Matimba 1 and 2, Kriel 3 and Majuba 4 – returning to service.
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Read: Eskom plans to suspend power cuts on Thursday evening
The state-owned utility, which supplies 90% of the country’s electricity, is currently battling unplanned load losses of 13 991 megawatts (MW), this number was at 14 444 MW when the utility implemented Stage 2 load shedding on Wednesday.
De Ruyter previously warned that the energy supplier saw an increased risk of power cuts in a tightly balanced system, as the utility turned to scarce diesel supplies to help keep emergency turbines turning.
The move to Stage 1 – which will be announced later this afternoon – means that South Africans can now expect to have no power for at least two hours a day.
Suspecting foul play
In the briefing, De Ruyter aired out suspicions that the simultaneous failure of all three Matimba power stations located in Limpopo were as a result of sabotage. The Matimba units are one of Eskom’s best-performing, so the seemingly coordinated failure certainly raised eyebrows for the utility.
“My fundamental point of departure has always been not to attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. But when you have three simultaneous units trip like this, it certainly does arouse suspicion,” De Ruyter said.
“I must confirm what we have said yesterday in a media statement that we have no hard evidence of sabotage at this point in time, but it certainly is quite coincidental that this incident has taken place right now.”
When asked what motivation people would have to sabotage the state utility to the detriment of the entire country, the CEO treaded carefully, cautioning against inflammatory speculation but said this all seemed to be part of a pushback campaign against Eskom’s ‘clean-up’ efforts.
“I think there is definitely significant pushback from some of the networks that have benefited extensively from criminal activity in and around Eskom,” he said.
“There have been a number of reports of arrests, people that have been subject to disciplinary action, people that have had money forfeited to the state by unexplained millions in their bank accounts and so forth,” he said.
“So I think that there are quite a few people who are not fully aligned with the new direction that Eskom is taking to clean up its operation,” De Ruyter said.
Eskom says it has employed the services of forensic investigators to get to the bottom of its suspicions and has taken initiative to employ more security at its stations to protect its assets.
The state-owned utility says it is also working with law enforcement authorities to investigate a network suspected of tampering with coal quality, which ultimately compromises the functioning of Eskom’s boiler tubes.
“We are working with the Directorate of Priority Crime investigation … in order to uncover this particular network that is clearly intent on skimming off the good coal and filling what is left with rocks and other incombustible material, which is of course very hard on our boiler tubes as well as on our models,” De Ruyter added.