Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter said South Africa could have been plunged into Stage Six load shedding or worse had alleged saboteurs succeeded in an apparent plan to shut down some units at Lethabo Power Station.
Speaking during a briefing when the power utility announced load shedding is expected to be lifted this evening (Friday, 19 November) with a good forecast for that to remain over the weekend.
Turning to what he called “acts of sabotage”, De Ruyter said an Eskom investigation into the Lethabo Power Station incident found stays and rods were cut to trigger the fall of an electricity line pylon also known as a tower.
De Ruyter explained the pylon fall damaged two coal feed lines which could have caused the power station –South Africa’s most reliable – to be without coal in six hours, triggering a shut down.
“There is no sign of corrosion, no sign of metal fatigue, there was no shearing on the pylons and there is evidence some cutting instrument involved – possibly a hack saw or angle grinder.
“What further arouses suspicion this was a deliberate act of sabotage is nothing was stolen from the site. The stays were cut, the tower was pushed over onto another line and nothing was stolen. This is not an economic crime,” he said.
De Ruyter, who has repeatedly declined to call incidents at power stations malicious, now suggests evidence is there.
“For some time we had suspicious incidents and I think this is the clearest indication to date there are individuals seeking to damage the economy by causing significant and substantial load shedding.
“We have reported the matter to the Hawks who are assisting us in the investigation. Supply of electricity is, in the interim, restored. Our colleagues in distribution were innovative in finding a third supply and we averted a severe incident at Lethabo,” he said.
De Ruyter said 390 000km of distribution and transmission lines across the country does not make it “physically possible” to station guards at every pylon.