'The whole country is counting on us': What Eskom boss told staff when stage 4 hit

"The whole country is counting on every one of us to do the right thing". 

This is what Eskom's Chief Operations Officer, Jan Oberholzer, wrote to staff in a memo mid-March when the power utility was implementing stage 4 load shedding to keep the lights on. 

In the letter, which Fin24 has seen, he said the implementation of stage 4 rotational power cuts was a "dark day" for Eskom and the country.

'We need a change'

"We need a change in commitment, a sense of urgency, and a deeper perception of Eskom’s reality and its impact on each one of us," wrote Oberholzer. "A real change in our behaviour and response is what is desperately needed to help us move forward. We are all equally responsible for Eskom, and it is up to all of us to contribute meaningfully and do the best we can to save our organisation."

He challenged each staff member to consider what they could contribute to make a "meaningful impact" that would help turn around Eskom's performance and sustainability. "The whole country is counting on every one of us to do the right thing. We need to FIX ESKOM," he said.

Silo effect

Oberholzer said the power utility still operated in silos.

"As much as we all strive towards a mutual vision and shared goals, we are largely driven by the division’s or department’s goals, and naturally will work according to the rules and routines that define a specific division’s structure to achieve its objectives," he said.

"Over a period of time, this culture will ultimately have a negative impact on the performance and agility of an organisation," Oberholzer warned.

This one-dimensional way of working leads to a lack of transparency and collaboration, a lack of accountability, duplication of work, results in inefficiencies, and creates backlogs, among other issues, he added.

"What is fundamentally clearer, now more than ever before, is that we cannot turn Eskom around if we choose to pursue independent goals.

"Eskom’s stability and success require that we all work together from one agenda, through collaborative effort, one that compels us to trust one another," he said.

Winter plan

There have been no rotational power cuts since Sunday, March 24.

On Wednesday, just over two weeks after Oberholzer sent his memo, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, as well as other Eskom executives, including CEO Phakamani Hadebe and Board Chairperson Jabu Mabuza, held a briefing, updating the country on the state of the electricity system.

Although Eskom could not guarantee that load shedding would be something of the past, Gordhan emphasised that Eskom had developed a winter plan. At most, Eskom would implement Stage 1 load shedding, up until August.

The technical review team tasked with assessing power station to get to the bottom of plant failures has not yet concluded their work, but management and government have a better understanding of the challenges, he said.

Mabuza also shared an update on Eskom's dire financial situation. Eskom is engaging with government regarding its funding options.

At the briefing, the media was also told of the low staff morale at Eskom as a result of public "bashing" in the media due to the spate of load shedding.