Removing André de Ruyter from Eskom would be a short-sighted quick fix to a 14-year-old problem, which is itself the result of political short-sightedness.
Here’s an unpopular opinion for you: Eskom’s CEO André de Ruyter is doing what is necessary to prevent the national grid from total collapse.
The reality is there is not enough supply to match the demand for power.
Eskom’s generational units are and have been working overtime since load shedding began in 2007.
Many people have been using the analogy of car services as a way to wrap their minds around this problem.
Car services take a day, power plant services can take anything from six months to a year, and maybe longer, depending on how rundown the plant is.
De Ruyter has been at Eskom’s helm for two years. So technically, if one power plant was taken out of circulation for major maintenance, it would take roughly the same amount of time that he has been in office to fix just one plant.
The harsh truth is that ageing and neglected infrastructure cannot be fixed in a short space of time.
Renewable energy is not a quick fix, and although it can relieve some supply pressure, it is not enough to permanently sustain growing power demand in the long run.
Just last month, Britain had to switch its coal-fired stations back on to keep up with the demand, and this comes after the country moved to green energy.
Years of mismanagement and political interference at Eskom is not De Ruyter’s fault, and firing him will not solve the problem.
Eskom needs someone ruthless at its helm. Someone who is not afraid to do what is necessary, and is thick-skinned enough to handle being the most hated person in the South Africa right now, so that we are not plunged into an irreversible crisis later.
While previous CEOs have done some maintenance in their tenures, it was not enough to reduce the backlog. And if we are being completely fair, most of Eskom’s CEOs were not in their posts long enough to effect substantial change.
The backlog is, in part, a result of budget cuts over the years and political interference on Eskom’s maintenance programme.
Recently, Eskom was asked to halt maintenance to keep the lights on during elections; before that, Eskom was asked to keep the lights so that Parliament could discuss some appropriation bill, and there was also the time when the power utility was asked to not cut the power during King Goodwill Zwelithini’s funeral.
The highest rate of maintenance (12%) took place between 2016 and 2017 (under Brian Molefe), when energy availability was over 80%.
But that dropped again over time, as new managers came in with their own management styles and priorities.
We are living the consequences of an ANC-led governance failure because the party would rather close ranks around members who are corrupt than hold them accountable.
The problem is people are expecting quick fixes for a problem that has been in the making for more than 14 years.
De Ruyter’s mistake was promising to solve the country’s power crisis in 18 months, before understanding the magnitude of the problem.
Firing him now will deepen the crisis. If the national grid collapses, we will be without power for weeks. That means ATMs, cellphone towers, security systems and all the comforts and conveniences we enjoy electronically will be gone, and the consequences thereof will be disastrous for everyone.
Power cuts are a necessary evil to prevent that catastrophe from becoming a reality.
We are expected, as citizens, to prepare and arrange our lives around power failures and load shedding schedules, yet at a local government level, basic relief measures are not happening.
It is not De Ruyter’s fault that we are sitting in hours of gridlocked traffic in peak times. It is a local government failure because they failed to deploy traffic police to major points to relieve congestion. It’s not like they don’t have access to the load shedding schedules.
To date, I have not seen a single metro police officer directing traffic during peak-hour power failures. What I have seen, is one lone Outsurance pointsman here and there and traffic-intersection beggers taking up the task.
I have seen grateful drivers stopping the flow of traffic to tip beggars for stepping in to do what local government has failed to do. Not having contingency plans in place, while asking its constituents to prepare for rolling power cuts, is a failure at basic governance.
Public anger is a powerful tool that politicians wield when the agenda suits them. But, now it needs to be directed at the right people.