Ngubane warns of power cuts unless Treasury signs Eskom coal deals

South Africa was warned on Tuesday of winter power cuts unless the National Treasury urgently signs purchase agreements so Eskom can build up its coal reserves.

Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane said there had been no planned power cuts over the past two winters because “we had sufficient coal brought in and built up the stocks to more than a million tons”.

But he added: “Now we have a problem because Treasury has not yet signed our coal purchase agreements and we are in winter‚ and the winter is getting bitter. People are using electricity like crazy … We need to have enough stock of coal in view of that.”

Ngubane was speaking on the sidelines of the African Utility Week conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre‚ where he delivered the opening address.

He gave credit for the uninterrupted electricity supply to newly reinstated Eskom CEO Brian Molefe‚ who on his second day back in the hot seat skipped the event due to other “urgent matters”.

Said Ngubane: “I’m proud that we have made a difference at Eskom and saved the country from going into a state of blackout.

“And the person who must take credit for that is Brian [Molefe]. [His reappointment] is for the good of the country and in the [best] interest of the company.”

Ngubane said Molefe helped avoid disaster by building up coal reserves and devising planned outages during his first stint as the power utility’s CEO.

Molefe was reinstated at Eskom last week after he left the post in November following a damning State Capture report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela‚ which linked him to the Saxonwold-based Gupta family.

Earlier on Tuesday‚ the amaBunghane Centre for Investigative Journalism reported that Molefe and Ngubane helped the Gupta family secure the Optimum coal mine from Glencore in 2015.

Former resources minister Ngoako Ramathlodi said he resisted pressure from Molefe and Ngubane to suspend Glencore’s mining licences‚ and was later fired because of this.

But Ngubane denied Ramathlodi’s claims‚ saying that he and Molefe had a number of complex issues to navigate through at the time.

“It was the same at that time‚ when we were just starting to come out of load shedding‚ there was this bombshell from Optimum which said they had to double or triple their price per tonne because their exports had dropped internationally‚ and so they needed to make it up here. We said we can’t. Our auditors will see that this [is] irresponsible and irregular expenditure.”

The SACP staged a demonstration outside the energy conference calling for Molefe’s reinstatement to be reversed and for the Eskom board to be dissolved.

The party’s Western Cape secretary‚ Benson Ngqentsu‚ said Ngubane was a “problem” who was not “committed to using our state-owned enterprises as a strategic vehicle to build our developmental state”.

“Molefe did not resign honestly. He did so knowing he was taking redeployment elsewhere to further loot our public resources. Now that he wasn’t made a minister‚ he has gone back to Eskom to loot‚” he said.

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