Eskom’s Decline
An abbreviated history

Craig Herbst
Managing Director

 14 April 2022

At GreenHouse our passion for our craft isn’t confined to office hours, and many of us follow and contribute to some of the better discussion groups on social media.  Yesterday evening a question was posted on a Facebook group, enquiring into the history of Eskom’s difficulties, and our current load shedding woes.  Given my choice of career, and the fact that I had obtained my Engineering degree under the privilege of an Eskom bursary in the 1980’s, I offered the following over-simplified opinion:

1. Post democracy, government had little appreciation for the maintenance requirements of mega-assets.
2. Investment planning for future capacity was neglected as the focus was on the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).
3. Cadre-deployment and affirmative action policies resulted in a loss of skills and institutional knowledge, resulting in rising costs and declining performance.
4. This presented the perfect environment for corruption and what has become known as State Capture. Corruption and incompetence were effectively institutionalized.
5. In the face of the collapse of the national utility, government was forced to install a fixer. Andre de Ruyter has taken on the seemingly impossible task of turning around an organisation of broken hardware and a bloated, overpaid and incompetent workforce.

It’s important to add though that there remain many dedicated, capable people doing their best to make a difference under impossible conditions.

A look at The Department of Minerals and Energy’s “Energy Security Masterplan – Electricity 2007-2025” is telling:  government’s head remained firmly in the sand as it either failed to recognise the looming disaster, or preferred to remain in denial.  Exactly two sentences of the 66-page document are dedicated to the subject of Renewable Energy!   Those limited areas of the plan which had merit, for example the unbundling of Eskom, remain largely unexecuted.

Eskom has, understandably, become the target of our collective rage as the unreliability and cost of electricity threaten our livelihoods and our lifestyles.  But the above suggests that our fury is misdirected, and that it is the ANC government which deserves to be the subject of our tar-and-feather fantasies.

Our ongoing denigration of Eskom certainly can’t help the current state of affairs, and it may even be holding us back: what Eskom needs right now is skilled, motivated employees, fixing what is broken.  And these are the last people who are likely to sign up or hang around, as long as Eskom is vilified.

De Ruyter and his wingmen are pretty much all that currently stands between us and total collapse of the power grid.  Let’s give them some space, and our support.