Eskom Watch

Why the past cannot be blamed for Eskom’s woes

Prof. Christo Viljoen, ex-Eskom board and ex-NERSA member
Cristo Viljoen.jpg

The facts are that the past cannot be blamed for electricity utility Eskom’s present crisis situation.

The real question is why Eskom drew up an emergency recovery plan in case the country should suffer a countrywide electricity blackout?

Even in First World countries it would take several days to get supply up and running again. Eskom’s prediction that the country will in the case of a total blackout be without electricity for up to two weeks, is optimistic in the face of the size of the network.

There are 87 generators, which will have to be returned to the network one by one after each one has been synchronised.

The size of recipient areas will have to start off with that of a small town and gradually be increased until it finally covers the whole of the country – further hampered by the present fragility of the network and Eskom’s proven management shortfall.

An engineering colleague recently likened Eskom’s position to that of a transport company attempting to deliver a service with 50-year-old buses – unreliable and with spares mostly unavailable when they break down. Plus they are uneconomical in terms of fuel consumption as well as being big polluters.

Two of Eskom’s coal-fuelled power stations are older than 50 years, four 40+, and in urgent need of replacement. Nuclear-fuelled Koeberg has only about 10 years operational life left.

As for President Zuma’s claim, repeated three times since December (even at Davos) that Eskom was never designed to supply electricity to everyone in the country and that the present dilemma is an apartheid legacy, it is simply not true.

Apartheid can be blamed for many things, but not for the present electricity shortfall.

The facts

  • In 1994 South Africa had an 37,6 GW generation capacity, which if retained and available would have eliminated today’s blackouts. For example, when on 5 December 2014 the present round of load-shedding was introduced, Eskom could only deliver 24 GW of the 28 GW needed. It had already lost 37% of the capacity inherited from the “apartheid-government”.
  •  Under ANC government, Eskom’s network (inherited in 1994) has been supplemented by the Majuba power station (4,1 GW) as well as one generator at Camden (0,6 GW), increasing total capacity to 42 GW. Both Majuba and Camden were contracted for and construction started before 1994. The ANC to date has added nothing and if the capacity of 42 GW was available no load-shedding would have been needed since peak summer demand is only 32 GW.
  • In December Eskom could, in round figures, only deliver 24 GW or 57% of capacity, a loss of 42%, while internationally a maximum of 15% in reserve is regarded as acceptable as a preventative and schedules maintenance reserve. Heavens be with us if the peak demand in the coming winter months should climb to 40 GW.
  • The White Paper on Energy already in 1998 predicted an electricity shortage by 2007. Eskom’s own engineers calculated that one 1,2 GW (equivalent to one Koeberg) every 18 months or one Kriel-size coal power station every three years, was needed. Instead the ANC cabinet, with Penuell Maduna as the minister responsible, placed a moratorium on new Eskom power stations, hoping the private sector would oblige. The moratorium was lifted only six years later without any long-term planning done in the meantime, while most of Eskom’s planning engineers have resigned and emigrated.

Mr Zuma claims the extension of electricity supply to people excluded before 1994 is the reason for load-shedding. This is nonsense. Granted, 4,5 million households have been added to the grid and homes with electricity lifted from 44% to 85%. But household use is low and it added only 5% in demand while capacity went up by 11%. This excuse does not wash.

The decision to build Medupi and Kusile power stations was only taken in 2005. Medupi, scheduled to start delivering electricity in 2012, has not been switched on yet. Kusile’s estimated delivery time is 2017. Present Eskom management fails the long-term planning and contract management tests.

Electricity expert Chris Yelland calculated that Eskom loses 3 GW to ‘non-technical’ reasons, an alternative term for electricity theft and non-payment by consumers. That is the equivalent of one Kriel-sized power station.

Johannesburg’s City Power experiences 32% ‘non-technical losses’. In Soweto it is 80%. If Eskom can solve this problem there will be an additional 3 GW available and phase three load-shedding would become unnecessary.

Eskom already delivers electricity to the aluminium smelters Alusaf (Richards Bay) and Mozal (Maputo) below generating cost, something for which other consumers pay. These contracts should be renegotiated so that Billiton covers the generation cost or the smelters should be closed. At Mozal only 800 jobs will be lost.


The ANC government should shoulder full responsibility for the present electricity situation in South Africa. The past cannot be blamed.

Maladministration of 21 years by the ANC regime and its cadres caused the mess, with a real danger of a national power failure lasting several weeks.

Electricity shortages are set to last for some years and Eskom is described as the biggest threat to South Africa’s economy in 100 years.

We are facing a national disaster thanks to the ANC regime. The past cannot be blamed for the incalculable harm to the economy and the enormous losses in money and jobs.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Prof. Christo Viljoen

(Prof. Viljoen is a retired professional engineer and ex-member of the Eskom board and Electricity Control Board – now Nersa. This is a translation of a study document he produced for the Afrikanerbond.)

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