SA minister says net to tighten around coal mafia behind Eskom breakdowns

Pravin Gordhan, minister, Department of Public Enterprises

SOUTH African authorities have identified a “coal mafia” operating in the country’s Mpumalanga province which is partly behind the poor performance of power company Eskom, said Bloomberg News, citing Pravin Gordhan, public enterprises minister.

Gordhan told the news service these coal providers were responsible for supplying coal to Eskom contaminated with metal and rubble that has damaged its equipment. The authorities are also investigating cases in which Eskom is billed for thousands of litres of fuel oil, which is used to run power plants, that aren’t delivered.

“You’ll begin to see more and more visibly push back in this particular regard from the various authorities,” Gordhan told Bloomberg.

Earlier this week the police apprehended two former employees of Swiss industrial group ABB and their wives for alleged graft linked to more than R500m of contracts with Eskom.

The damage caused by the corrupt practices are among the factors that last month drove Eskom to deepen power cuts to the worst level in almost two years, Gordhan told Bloomberg News. The utility, responsible for most of South Africa’s power, has implemented nationwide outages in all but one month this year and has so far instituted rolling blackouts for 24 consecutive days.

On Friday, Business Unity SA (Busa) urged South African president Cyril Ramaphosa to include in this plan clear direction and deadlines that reflect the seriousness and urgency of the power situation, according to Business Live.

“We urgently need government to create the regulatory and administrative environment that will clear the path to energy security,” said Busa CEO Cas Coovadia was quoted as saying.

Busa’s statement came as Ramaphosa finalises what his office calls an “energy master plan” which will incorporate timelines on when South Africa expects an end to the frequent blackouts.

“We are not consulting into paralysis,” said Vincent Magwenya, the spokesperson for Ramaphosa, adding that the plan will be “an emergency response that “… will also speak to cutting the red tape”.

Business Day reported on Monday that among the measures being considered to expedite licensing and permitting processes for new generation capacity projects was declaring an energy emergency.