'It's unfair' to blame me or govt for Eskom crisis - Mantashe on defensive at urgent Cabinet meeting

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Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe
PHOTO: Raymond Morare
  • A Cabinet committee is meeting urgently on Wednesday, deliberating on the crises at Eskom after the power utility plunged the country into Stage 6 load shedding on Tuesday.
  • Minister Gwede Mantashe, who was at the Cabinet committee meeting, told News24 it was disingenuous to blame the government as it had gone the extra mile to try and alleviate the troubles at Eskom.
  • Eskom said most of its striking workers had returned to work on Wednesday.

A Cabinet committee was meeting urgently on Wednesday to deliberate on the crises at Eskom after the power utility plunged the country into stage 6 load shedding on Tuesday. No Cabinet meeting had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told News24 it was disingenuous to blame the government for the crisis. Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan have come under harsh criticism, particularly from the DA, for having failed to prevent the deterioration at Eskom.

He said:

It's unfair to place blame on myself or the government. What should I do with Eskom as mineral resources and energy minister? The power utility is a matter [which falls] under public enterprises.

"But despite it being under public enterprises, government as a whole has gone the extra mile [by] instituting a supplementary programme to make up for the shortcomings at Eskom. We [as government] are actually implementing the supplementary programme aggressively, but the more we implement it, the worse Eskom becomes. What do I do with that?" said Mantashe.

The minister was referring to bid windows one, two, three, and four of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme that have been approved and connected to the grid.

"Bid window five has been approved, and while bid windows six and seven are on the way. If you add all these together, they will give you a total of 7 800 megawatts. The problem is that these bid windows won't give you instant energy. Instant energy will only come from the units of Eskom working efficiently," said Mantashe.

The minister confirmed that he was speaking to News24 from the sidelines of the Cabinet committee meeting.

READ | Eskom employees start returning to work amid speculation of a higher wage offer

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya told News24 that President Cyril Ramaphosa was attending the meeting.

On Tuesday, News24 reported that Ramaphosa had spent Tuesday dealing with the problems at Eskom.

The Presidency said Ramaphosa returned to the country from the G7 summit in Germany on Tuesday morning. He was immediately roped into a briefing about ongoing labour disputes at Eskom, which resulted in the country being plunged into darkness, Ramaphosa's office said.

This was after the power utility implemented stage 6 load shedding on Tuesday.

Ramaphosa was said to have landed on Tuesday at 10:00 and was briefed on the situation. He immediately called for a virtual meeting with Gordhan and Eskom CEO André de Ruyter where the precarious energy situation was discussed at length.

Magwenya said the president expressed concern about the situation and called for law enforcement to deal with incidents of sabotage at power stations across the country.

"He was assured that the illegal strike would be resolved expeditiously," Magwenya said.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said that an extended Cabinet meeting had not been scheduled for Wednesday but did not go into detail on whether a Cabinet committee was meeting.

Thousands of Eskom workers at nine power stations and other operating facilities downed tools more than a week ago following a deadlock in wage negotiations on 22 June.

This wildcat strike, combined with unplanned breakdowns, plunged the country into stage 6 load shedding for the second time in the history of rotational power cuts.

Eskom confirmed that a number of its striking workers returned to their posts on Wednesday while wage negotiations would continue, a move that could restore the utility's generation capacity.

"I can confirm that many employees are peacefully returning to work and that there are no incidents of protest reported so far today (Wednesday)," Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said.

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