Eskom
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Does South Africa have the specialist skills needed to turn Eskom around?

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/02/20 – subscribe today

Africa’s largest power utility remains under immense strain to keep the lights on and to secure South Africa’s energy supply. In efforts to achieve this, a Presidential Cabinet Committee on Eskom has been formed and a team of foreign experts has been called in to help.

But immediate questions have been raised pertaining to potential conflicts of interest and why the committee hasn’t called on local experts and the vast institutional memory of current and ex-Eskom employees.

In a national election year, the Eskom crisis is a particularly thorny challenge for the ruling party and probably the reason why the committee will directly brief President Ramaphosa on a daily basis.

The team includes ministers from the public enterprises, energy, finance, transport, intelligence and police departments giving it a wide scope to achieve its responsibility of meeting with stakeholders to “help restore stability to the grid and chart a way forward whilst ensuring that there is minimal economic cost to the consumer and taxpayers”.

This task team has gone so far as to call upon international expertise to address the growing financial and operational failure of the utility.

Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan announced last week that Enel, an Italian energy firm, will send experts to help fix Eskom. It’s a tall order considering that the Enel team – although being highly-trained experts in their field – will not be entirely familiar with the South African fleet of power stations and the national grid.

The concern is that it will take time for them to fully understand the utility’s operations to conduct the expected power station and network audits. Another concern is one of conflict of interest as the Enel Group has several renewable energy IPP projects in South Africa.

Perhaps more importantly, the question of why the skills and experience of many local experts aren’t being harnessed further highlights how a difficult socio-political climate is making the Eskom rescue effort ever-more complicated. 

Is South Africa making the most of its local knowledge pool? Or does Eskom need to reinvent itself with the help of fresh – foreign – expertise?

Read the previous note from the editor here.