ESKOM plans to beef up its security due to suspected sabotage.
ESKOM chief executive André de Ruyter said on Thursday it was under siege by forceful and subtle means aimed at undermining its systems and enforcing load shedding as he outlined a litany of acts of sabotage, including extension cords being dropped on to cooling systems at Matimba, deliberate tripping of power to Lethabo coal conveyors and syndicates skimming coal off trucks.
De Ruyter stopped short of naming organised syndicates, “which had previously benefited from Eskom coffers and had millions confiscated to the state”, but said “there was a definite pushback from elements that had benefited from Eskom”.
However, he said it was dangerous to speculate. “We will avoid speculation and paranoia, but we have scaled up our security systems,” he said.
This is as Eskom on Thursday announced the suspension of stage 2 load shedding from 9pm last night to 5am this morning under stage 1, provided trusted systems, which had been under maintenance supervision, came into play.
Eskom has close to 14 000 megawatts of losses in the system, between the Camden, Matimba, Matla, Medupi and Thuthuka power stations, which had about 9 000kW of unplanned maintenance to undergo, while partial restorations accounted for close on 5 000MW.
At Thursday’s state of the system address, De Ruyter said there were too many coincidences in the faults and defaults of the institution for these to be random malfunctions.
These date back to the transformer unit 4 blow-out at Medupi, which is out for the next 18 months, to the current sabotage of dry cooling systems at Matimba that took out all three cooling towers.
“We cannot say everything that happens is out of malice, but we do not believe it is entirely coincidental … It arouses suspicion when these things happen as they do. We have deployed extra security to protect our assets. The cost of the extra security is minuscule to the cost of the inefficiency that the system is brought to,” he said.
Among the breaches, he said, was that while Eskom sealed its coal from source with tarpaulins and authentic seals only opened at offloading, a truck driver was recently found with more than 60 seals in his vehicle, which suggested that syndicates skimmed the coal and refilled the load with rocks and other incombustible materials when it offloaded into the conveyor belts.
Another wonder to De Ruyter was that the Lethabo station, Eskom’s most reliable power producer at this point, was supplied by two power lines from Gauteng. These had been tampered with, such that both towers for the coal conveyors were affected, resulting in the need from a Free State feeder to get them going.
He said the consequence of the conveyor’s collapse was that Thuthuka would have run out coal in a matter of hours, resulting in widespread load shedding.
“A tower collapsing in such a way to cause redundancy to the other one to make double redundancy, we are working against considerable coincidences which would have a big impact on our operations,” he said.
He said Eskom had roped in the crime investigation agencies to get to the bottom of the acts of sabotage, but downplayed the cost of the extra security measures that the utility says it has taken over all its assets.
The skimming of the good -coal off the trucks had affected Eskom’s boiler tube leaks, which could only be caused by external forces hence the significance of the discovery of a truck with unauthorised tarpaulin seals suggested the existence of a network that aimed to clog the system with debris to undermine the systems.
De Ruyter emphasised the lack of substantive evidence to openly point out at acts of deliberate sabotage but cast aspersions on the activities of technicians and the influence of outsiders aggrieved with Eskom.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE