'Mr Fixit' rides to Medupi's rescue
South Africans have a new superhero on whom they can pin their hopes.
He is Phillip Dukashe, who has in the past helped avert power blackouts that would have been devastating, and he has been appointed acting project director for Medupi power station.
Medupi has become Eskom's Achilles heel, with labour unrest and shoddy workmanship delaying the bringing online of its generators by 20 months.
Once fully up and running, Medupi will produce 4764MW for the national grid.
Dukashe's appointment, which is effective immediately, was announced yesterday and follows the weekend resignation of his predecessor, Roman Crookes.
According to Eskom, Crookes resigned to browse "greener pastures". He is expected to leave Eskom at the end of the month.
Dukashe, who was responsible for bringing three power stations mothballed in the 1980s back online, and who rescued the Majuba power station after one of its coal silos collapsed in 2014, has his work cut out for him.
Shaun Nel, director of the Energy Intensive Users' Group, said there was considerable pressure for Medupi to be brought online.
"From an economy perspective, we need to avoid load-shedding at all costs," said Nel.
"Eskom has always said that if Medupi runs late heads must roll - but they have not. If the results now are that people must resign, then they must resign. Medupi and Kusile are the only things saving us from load-shedding. It's critical that they come online."
The DA has called on Dukashe, also known as "Mr Fix-It", to present his plans to parliament.
Energy analyst Ted Blom has warned that Dukashe will have his work cut out.
"Medupi is completely different to any other power station we have, employing the latest technology. It is like stepping from a 1960s Mini into a 2015 Merc. The pressure to achieve and deliver will be huge," he said.
Adding to the pressure is the ultimatum given by Eskom CEO Brian Molefe to Dukashe and project directors of the still-under-construction Kusile and Ingula power stations.
"The CEO has given an ultimatum ... That all deadlines will be met and that there will be no more delays. Dukashe will be taking over from today [Monday] to ensure this happens," said Eskom spokesman
He said Dukashe was the man Eskom depended on when power stations had problems.
"He is part of a larger team of go-to people. He has the power to hire and fire, and will have whatever support he needs to get the job done. He is known as a man of action and that is what he has got to do - take action."
Phasiwe said that to dispel concerns about the Medupi project that surfaced after Crookes' resignation, Molefe moved to appoint Dukashe with immediate effect.
"The appointment of Dukashe, who has worked for Eskom for 22 years, is about ensuring continuity and stability."
In 2014, when the Majuba coal silo collapsed - plunging the country into load-shedding after its capacity was reduced from 3600MW to 1400MW - it was Dukashe who helped avert complete disaster by ensuring that there were 1000 trucks onsite to transport coal. This has now decreased to 90 trucks.
He also helped ensure Grootvlei, Komati and Camden power stations - mothballed in the 1980s - were successfully brought back online to provide 2000MW to the power grid.
National Union of Metalworkers general secretary Irvin Jim said the union would work with Dukashe if he had an open mind.
"If he's coming with the sole mandate of firing workers, then obviously we will side with the workers. We're not here to fight with people but we will protect workers' rights," he said.
Unit Six, Medupi's first 800MW power station, officially opened in August. The entire facility is expected to be completed in 2019.
Construction on the 4764MW Medupi plant, near Lephalale, was started in 2007 but the first 794MW came online only in August after delays caused by strikes, technical problems and cost overruns.
Eskom budgeted R105-billion for the entire project but has said this will rise due to overruns.
Early last year, the utility was forced to impose almost daily power cuts that hurt economic growth. But Eskom said it did not expect it would have to implement blackouts until April this year.
Additional reporting by BDLive