Police link high-level Eskom exec to power station sabotage

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has identified a high-ranking Eskom executive that they believe could be central to the sabotage plaguing the power utility’s generation fleet, City Press reports.

The executive has been the subject of discussions between security cluster ministers over serious allegations made against them.

It is alleged that the person in question strategically appointed hand-picked engineers to initiate generation unit breakdowns at certain power stations.

It is believed that they benefitted from several income streams due to the sabotage.

Minister in the Presidency responsible for the State Security Agency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, has held urgent discussions with police minister Bheki Cele regarding SAPS investigations into the executive.

Cele had previously told the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) that the individual was a person of interest.

Bheki Cele, Minister of Police

“I was told after my meeting with Scopa — where I said that the executive was a person of interest to the police — that the same individual was a person of interest to the police, and that interest has grown,” Cele told City Press.

He explained that, following a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa, where he berated those around Eskom for being pushed into criminal activity, his team raised suspicions over the executive.

“My guys heard the executive talking to me and said this was someone of high interest because an individual in such a high-ranking position must know more than that person was telling us,” Cele reportedly told the paper.

Leaked WhatsApp messages between the individual and the forensic auditor indicate that they had previously successfully engineered breakdowns at Eskom power stations.

The messages also reveal the executive actively discussing strategies for sabotaging power stations.

Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, security minister in the Presidency

Sabotage a long-running problem at Eskom

In April 2023, former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, in an affidavit, said the power utility had experienced a “sustained campaign of sabotage” for years. His court papers outlined several examples.

In December 2019, a fire broke out on Majuba Power Station’s overland coal conveyor.

An investigation revealed that two water flow control valves for the fire suppression system had been shut off, and there was no record of any approval for the valves to be shut off.

Unable to use the conveyor, Eskom was forced to receive its coal deliveries by road at a cost of approximately R276,000 per day — or R100 million per year.

In late 2021, transmission pylon supports carrying power lines to Lethabo Power Station’s overland coal conveyor were cut, causing the tower to collapse.

The eight supports, called stays, were sturdy, galvanised steel rods 24mm in diameter, and an investigation revealed clear evidence that a cutting instrument was involved.

Andre de Ruyter, former chief executive officer of Eskom. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

De Ruyter said it took nine hours for the coal supplies to be re-routed to Lethabo from a third supply line, and the incident resulted in South Africa moving from Stage 4 to Stage 6 load-shedding.

“What further arouses suspicion that this was a deliberate act of sabotage is that nothing was stolen. This was clearly now, an act of sabotage, and we can call it as such,” said De Ruyter.

Around the same time as the Lethabo incident, a team working on Matimba Power Station’s dry cooling fans dropped an extension cord onto the unit 2 transformer.

This caused all three of Matimba’s cooling units to trip and shut down simultaneously. Matimba and Lethabo were, and still are, among Eskom’s best-performing power stations.

In November 2022, a Camden Power Station contractor was arrested for sabotaging a generating unit.

This caused the oil burners to trip repeatedly, resulting in an outage of Camden Unit 4. The contractor later confessed that this was an intentional act of sabotage and was arrested.

Now read: Eskom giveth and Eskom taketh away

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Police link high-level Eskom exec to power station sabotage