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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Dark ops: R146m in SANDF firepower to beef up Eskom security

Lock and load shed? Operation Prosper is in the candle light again following news that 880 soldiers will be deployed at Eskom power stations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has informed Parliament on Monday 8 May that he has authorised the employment of 880 members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to safeguard a number of Eskom power stations around the country.

Cable commandos: Third SANDF deployment to protect Eskom

This is the third time in six months that SANDF personnel have been assigned to protect Eskom’s national power supply infrastructure.

The deployments were launched under the banner of Operation Prosper as a counter-offensive to combat cable theft, sabotage and vandalism.

The SANDF were employed to put 2700 boots on the ground from 16 December 2022 to 16 March 2023 to protect Eskom power stations in cooperation with the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The initial three-month deployment of troops cost taxpayers just over R200 million.

The second Eskom protection deployment took place from 17 March to 17 April.

Eskom’s Duvha Power Station in Mpumalanga. Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Lauren Mulligan

ALSO READ: ANC slams De Ruyter for ‘failing to take the nation into confidence’ on Eskom matters

Employment of soldiers to cost taxpayers R146m

“The president has informed speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula  and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Amos Masondo in writing of the deployment of SANDF personnel for service in co-operation with police,” the Presidency said. 

A number of power plants across the country will be safeguarded by the SANDF members and SAPS until 17 October for a period of six months.

The expenditure expected to be incurred for the employment of the 880 soldiers will amount to R146 million.

ALSO READ: Gordhan to appeal court ruling on load shedding exemptions

Criminals continue to target Eskom power stations

Eskom’s head of security Karen Pillay told BusinessDay in an interview last week that 35 incidents of criminal activity were reported in March despite the deployment of soldiers.  

“These incidents include cable theft, common theft, theft of diesel and malicious damage to property with an intent to steal. Some incidents recorded also include those that occurred outside the power stations, such as theft of laptops from employees [during their commute to and from work],” Pillay said. 

Bleak winter forecast: Load shedding could escalate to stage 7 or 8

Ramaphosa’s latest announcement of yet another costly exercise to safeguard Eskom’s energy generation and transmission infrastructure, comes amid the bleak forecast of stage-8 rolling blackouts, — with no electricity for up to 13 hours a day — during the winter months.

Making an appearance on SABC’s Morning Live programme on Monday, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said load shedding at stage 7 or even 8 is possible and that the next 150 days are going to be “very tough”.

ALSO READ: Load shedding: South Africans face cold, dark winter with no end in sight

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