Soldiers ordered to keep safeguarding Eskom power stations from saboteurs into 2024

Soldiers ordered to keep safeguarding Eskom power stations from saboteurs into 2024

Nearly 900 soldiers will be keeping an eye on Eskom power plants, which risk becoming the target of saboteurs and vandals, over the festive season and until at least March 2024.

President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote to the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces on 23 October saying he had extended the employment of 880 SANDF members who were working with the SAPS as part of crime-fighting operations.

“Members of the SANDF employed will continue to work in cooperation with the SAPS, to protect and safeguard national key points and critical infrastructure in the energy sector (Eskom power stations), under Operation Prosper, for a period 18 October 2023 to 31 March 2024,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that the deployment would cost nearly R111-million. Ramaphosa’s letter comes as rolling blackouts persist in South Africa. The deployment of SANDF members to Eskom sites dates back nearly a year.

Sabotage, vandalism and corruption

In December 2022, Daily Maverick reported that the Presidency confirmed that soldiers would be deployed “in response to the growing threat of sabotage, theft, vandalism and corruption at Eskom power stations.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SANDF to guard four Eskom power plants under threat of sabotage and vandalism

In May this year Ramaphosa initially announced that the 880 SANDF members had been employed “to safeguard a number of Eskom power stations around the country”.

A Presidency statement at the time said: “Members of the SANDF employed will assist the… SAPS in protecting Eskom power stations around the country where sabotage, theft and other crimes may threaten the functioning of power stations and the supply of electricity.”

That employment of the 880 soldiers concluded on 17 October, which is why Ramaphosa has now extended it from 18 October to March 2024.

In a weekly newsletter in October, Ramaphosa referenced efforts to tackle corruption at Eskom.

Corruption investigations 

“A number of investigations by the Special Investigating Unit into Eskom-related corruption continue to yield results,” he said.

“To date, coal supply agreements valued at approximately R3.7-billion have been declared invalid through litigation, and coal supply agreements and construction contracts valued at R10-billion have been set aside.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Filthy seam of sabotage – how thieving cartels are plunging South Africa into darkness

Coal smugglers were also being targeted.

“A multidisciplinary team, supported by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), carried out a meticulously planned search and seizure operation targeting coal smuggling syndicates operating across five provinces,” Ramaphosa said.

“Documents were seized from individuals alleged to have committed a range of offences including procurement fraud, tax crimes and coal diversion. This will support the drive to recover assets obtained from the proceeds of crime.”

Coal crackdown

Last month, on 12 October, SARS announced a coal smuggling crackdown was carried out across five provinces – Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Limpopo.

“The suspects targeted… include former Eskom employees who facilitated procurement fraud, as well as other individuals involved in the diversion of high-grade coal,” said a statement on the takedown.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SARS tip-offs lead to successful multi-province coal smugglers search-and-seizure operation

A network of coal smugglers allegedly switched high-grade with low-grade coal, and sold or exported the higher-quality product.

“The low-grade coal damages the infrastructure at the Eskom power stations, which is a major factor in crippling the power utility’s ability to generate electricity for the South African grid,” the SARS statement said.

Recent arrest

A month earlier, in September, SAPS also announced that a suspect, Patric Jones, wanted in connection with a fraud case linked to Eskom, and being investigated by Hawks officers in Middelburg, was arrested in the Western Cape.

“It is alleged that during April 2013, Jones colluded with Thandeka Innocentia Nkosi (42), who was working for Eskom as a senior buyer,” a statement said.

“During investigation, it was established that the family of Jones and his girlfriend were involved in the defrauding [linked to Eskom].”

It was alleged that Jones’s brother was a signatory to a bank business account linked to a company, Angel Frost Investment.

R14.7-million in fraud

Jones’s mother was the company’s only director, and his girlfriend was allegedly involved in tender processes linked to the company and Eskom.

The matter involved R14.7-million fraud.

Earlier this year, other crime crackdowns relating to Eskom were detailed.

Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa had said: “Over the period from April 2022 to [July 2023], there are 2,147 Eskom cases that have been reported to the… SAPS and about 1 586 of these are under investigation.”

Between April 2022 and July this year, 126 arrests were also carried out.

Crimes emanating from within Eskom were being focused on.

“A unit is located and embedded at Eskom and they also get to interact with various police stations that are attached to the various power stations,” Ramokgopa said.

“They do make regular visits, not just to power stations, but also to coal yards because they are trying to understand the anatomy of these criminal activities.” DM

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