Inside Eskom sabotage: Delayed report reveals how insiders helped the power station criminals

Delayed report reveals how insiders helped power station criminals

28 November 2021 - 00:04
Workers carry out repairs at Eskom's Tutuka power station in Mpumalanga earlier this month.
Image: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg Workers carry out repairs at Eskom's Tutuka power station in Mpumalanga earlier this month.

A forensic report that went unnoticed by Eskom bosses for more than a year has lifted the lid on wholesale sabotage of infrastructure by unscrupulous contractors and employees.

The report was submitted in January 2020, yet Eskom management said this week that it became aware of it only in June, when the department of public enterprises (DPE) showed it to Eskom executives.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the report had been commissioned by Tutuka power station in Standerton, Mpumalanga, and action had been implemented at station level at the time without the knowledge of the executive.

The report, by security company Bizz Tracers, said its investigations found that sabotage and other crimes were planned internally and executed with help from outside, including with syndicates and Eskom service providers.

It found that in some cases employees removed cameras, distribution boards, and a control timer to switch electrical equipment on and off, as well as committing other acts of vandalism. The report said Eskom employees colluded with suppliers who fixed the units, gave them inside information, and told them what prices to charge in an emergency.

The attacks have been confirmed by the former head of security at Tutuka, Dan Korope, who has since left Eskom. He told the Sunday Times this week that the incidents were reported to the Hawks.

“The biggest problem is people in the electrical maintenance department [EMD] who collude with contractors and suppliers. They break parts so they can work overtime, they then call on the suppliers they work with to supply the parts. It is a big scam where a lot of technical people make a lot of money together with suppliers, and the power station managers ignored our proposals from security,” he said.

Korope said EMD employees claimed anything from 120 to 150 hours in overtime each month.

“They make their own bonuses with overtime. When you have load-shedding just know that someone is going to get paid a lot of money at the end of the month from overtime. In some instances power outages are caused by negligence and human error, but the technicians will hide that and report it to head office as sabotage because they don’t want to be disciplined.”

Korope said Tutuka was not well protected and there were a lot of security risks at the plant.

“I asked that we should increase the security budget to get manpower. I was ignored and it showed that no-one was serious about protecting the plant,” Korope said. 

He said he reported his concerns to the forensic management at Megawatt Park but nothing was done.

In some cases employees removed cameras, distribution boards, and an HRS control timer to switch electrical equipment on and off, as well as committing other acts of other vandalism

An Eskom employee, who cannot be named, said that in December 2019 she had submitted a statement to her superiors and Bizz Tracers, alerting them to an incident of vandalism at the power station.

 “I went there to check ... I noticed that it was vandalised and there were traces of pee inside the container and ... the smell inside wouldn’t allow you to breathe,” she said in her statement, adding that a distribution board was missing, door handles were broken, and cameras on the inside were missing. 

Bizz Tracers is involved in multimillion-rand litigation with Eskom over a separate contract to track and recover ghost vending machines. It submitted its Tutuka report to the DPE's director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi earlier this year. 

DPE spokesperson Richard Mantu said: “Bizz Tracers brought a report on corruption and deliberate interference to the attention of the department’s senior officials. On receipt of the report it was brought to the attention of the Eskom executive, who confirmed with the department that the recommendations of the report were being implemented. The Eskom executive went on to find other incidents of wrongdoing at Tutuka, which they have brought to the public’s attention.”

Mantshantsha said there was a contract dispute with Bizz Tracers, but that Eskom became aware of its January 2020 preliminary report on sabotage only in June this year.

“According to verbal feedback from the then Tutuka power station general manager, Mr Mavimbela, who has since been suspended and remains on suspension, on 1 June 2021 he confirmed that the recommendations and findings by Bizz Tracers on matters they investigated were acted upon and implicated individuals were disciplined and subsequent criminal cases opened. Mr Mavimbela has to date not provided Eskom with any details thereof ... this specific contract was procured at power-station level, not at head office,” said Mantshantsha.

He said Eskom could not divulge details of the investigations of sabotage, negligence and corruption at power stations that had led to breakdowns. “The investigations are in progress and no arrests have been effected yet. All incidents are handled internally and⁄or escalated to law enforcement agencies.”

Bizz Tracers’ Calvin Rafadi declined to comment.

Last week, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, for the first time, said power outages were also caused by sabotage. He said lines feeding electricity to the Lethabo power station had been cut. 

 “Nothing was stolen from the site; the lines were cut and the tower was pushed over onto the other line. So this is not an economic crime, this was clearly now an act of sabotage ... We are calling it for what it is. This is the clearest indication that there are people who are determined to damage the economy through the sabotage of Eskom infrastructure,” he said.

“The consequences of this are significant. If we had lost power supply to Lethabo power station, we would have lost 3,600MW of electricity and that would have gone beyond stage 6 of load-shedding.”

The last time Eskom suggested sabotage, in December 2019, some units at the coal-power Tutuka power station tripped, causing Eskom to lose 2,000MW that  led to stage 6 load-shedding. The National Prosecuting Authority closed its case on the incident last December because of a lack of evidence.

Statements and e-mail correspondence between Korope and Bizz Tracers in January 2020 show evidence of sabotage at the Tutuka station.

Other internal Eskom e-mails, seen by the Sunday Times, were between Monette Heath, a middle manager for security at Eskom’s generation division, suspended Tutuka power station manager Jabulane Mavimbela, senior security manager Karen Pillay, and Caroline Voskuilen.

These showed Eskom was discussing extending Bizz Tracers’ work beyond Tutuka to include the Kendal, Matimba and Duvha power stations.