Sabotage still rampant at Eskom power stations — army not much help

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    Nat Quinn
    The deployment of soldiers to some of Eskom’s power stations over a month ago has been ineffective, with one power station general manager saying “sabotage is rampant”, TimesLive reports.
    The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was deployed to certain power stations in mid-December to protect them against criminal elements.
    However, according to the general manager, the soldiers aren’t entirely to blame for the lack of progress.
    “We have cable theft, inferior coal being swapped for coal, diesel being stolen from our yellow plant [vehicles] — these consist of bulldozers and earth-moving machines,” TimesLive quoted him as saying.
    “Yet, we expect soldiers trained in warfare to stop these activities.”
    The general manager said the only way to curb criminality and sabotage at Eskom power stations is to deploy undercover Hawks or SSA agents to determine the scope and size of the criminal syndicates.
    He said sabotage incidents have become more frequent and believes they are either politically motivated or committed by disgruntled employees overlooked for promotions or other perks.
    “Nobody at Eskom asked for the army to be deployed, because everybody knows it is a waste,” he added.
    An insider at the Kendal power station told TimesLive that they have a minimum of one incident of sabotage each month.
    Eskom revealed that SANDF soldiers had been deployed to four of its power stations — Majuba, Camden, Grootvlei, and Tutuka — on 18 December 2022.
    Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said the deployment of troops at power stations was a step in the right direction when it comes to stopping criminal activity at the embattled power utility.
    “There has been a concerted effort to collaborate across the security cluster to look at Eskom and root out the rotten eggs,” he said.
    Magwenya alluded to some of the challenges that power station managers face daily.
    “We have power station managers wearing bulletproof vests at work. Their children are being escorted by security. Their wives are being escorted by security to where they work,” he said.
    “It’s an unhealthy situation, and those are dedicated South Africans committed to helping us come out of this energy crisis.”
    Advocate Pikkie Greef of the South African National Defence Union said soldiers were deployed at power stations as there were “indications that there is an urgent threat to the country’s assets”.
    Eskom’s Tutuka power station in Mpumalanga
    Criminality at Eskom power stations
    Sabotage and theft have proven to be significant challenges for Eskom, with incidents of each affecting several of its power stations. Some sites are harder hit than others.
    In November 2022, a maintenance contractor was arrested for allegedly sabotaging the Camden power station in Mpumalanga. That month, the arrest was one of eight made for sabotage and theft-related crimes.
    The accused was found to have intentionally removed a bearing oil drain plug, resulting in repeated tips of the generation unit’s oil burners.
    The arrests made in November included four truck drivers and one supervisor who were nailed for coal theft at Eskom power stations.
    Two incidents saw truck drivers swap deliveries destined for Eskom power stations for sub-par coal at illegal coal yards near the sites.
    On both occasions, Bidvest Protea Coin investigators contracted by Eskom detected the illegal activities and made the subsequent arrests.
    Another incident saw two guards at Eskom power stations arrested for facilitating diesel theft.
    The Tutuka power station is arguably one of the hardest hit by sabotage incidents in recent years.
    Five incidents of sabotage at the power station have been reported since March 2021, with the latest involving culprits cutting a cable while maintenance personnel were in final preparations for returning Tutuka unit 5 to service following an outage.
    ‘The damage to the cable delayed the unit’s return to service by three days as it took some time to locate the fault,” Eskom said.
    “Once discovered, the cable was repaired in a short space of time. The return to service of unit 5 was then resumed.”


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