Editorial: Eskom is near rock bottom

Eskom as an institution and its ability to provide stable power supply is the single biggest risk to Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive and the South Africa fiscus. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Eskom as an institution and its ability to provide stable power supply is the single biggest risk to Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive and the South Africa fiscus. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Remember when Brian Molefe “solved” loadshedding? He didn’t. But neither will the long overdue Thuma Mina purge of the state-owned power monopoly’s deeply captured leadership.

The Guptas didn’t cause this one, although they certainly contributed to the financial hole Eskom finds itself in.

Eskom has been in crisis for so long that it is getting hard to sound serious when you say it is worse now than whatever has come before. And yet, here we are.

The continuing investigations into how Eskom was looted will do nothing to help the fact that the country’s power station fleet is, sometimes literally, falling apart.

This week, Eskom’s planned and unplanned outages, a euphemism for breakdowns, reached a record level. It is not an easy record to beat as South Africa has lived through at least three formal national electricity emergencies since 2008.

South Africa has more broken power stations than almost all other African countries have any kind of power station.

In addition, we are starting to learn that the two largest infrastructure projects in South African history – the gigantic “supercritical” Medupi and Kusile power stations – have been badly designed, badly built and are now badly generating power.

The two stations will have cost a combined R300 billion when they, one day, get completed. Despite this, they are seemingly falling victim to elementary design problems.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan likes to talk about state capture, but admitted this week that, at Eskom, “we can’t blame everything on the recent past”.

The Eskom crisis started in the happy days of 1998, when Thabo Mbeki’s government couldn’t decide what to do with Eskom in the first place.

Sell it? Break it up? Make it compete with new private power companies?

These were the intentions and they didn’t materialise. Eskom was “corporatised” and, instead of building power stations when there was time and even money to do so, Eskom paid government dividends while government ignored Eskom’s own warnings that, by about 2008, the power would run out. This turned out to be true and we rushed headlong into badly building Medupi and Kusile.

Now, here we are.

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