SANDF doesn’t have capacity to protect Eskom power plants

Following a crescendo of calls for Eskom to beef up security at its power stations, the power utility’s efforts to deploy the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were criticised, with experts saying the move was pointless and would put Eskom back to square one.

Without extra “muscle” from Eskom’s security staff, “what the soldiers can do is physical security and, just a somewhat limited boost to the security already,” security and defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman said.

“Or assist the physical security of the station. I mean, they’re not enough to take the whole perimeter of a power station.

Army deployment?

“The army can do physical security against a physical attack. Like if somebody tries to come in and plant a bomb in the station type thing, or steal cables.”

The SANDF were not trained to do what the Eskom security staff was meant to do and that even with the deployment, they still would be forced to beef up their internal security, Heitman said.

“Ten soldiers aren’t going to achieve a lot and they can’t do much about sabotage by people at the plant, because they will be, like you or me, standing inside the plant. We don’t know what’s going on there. It’s more gesture than anything else at this stage,” said Heitman.

“If you wanted to put real security per power station, you probably need a company with at least 40 per station – and there are lots of power stations.”

There was also an issue of the army running into a personnel problem, Heitman said.

“The army doesn’t have enough soldiers to do what it’s actually supposed to be doing. Basically, the army is short of about 8 000 or 10 000 bodies to do what it’s supposed to be doing.”

Why deployment wouldn’t work

Heitman noted that, depending on the mandate under which the SANDF is deployed, the soldiers had another issue of making arrests because, “normally they do not have any more rights to arrest than you or me; we can arrest, make a cypher9ja’s arrest”.

“When they’re working in support of the police, I don’t know in this case if they are deployed in support of the police, then yes, they can make an arrest.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Deployment of troops to Eskom plants raises questions about sabotage

“But they do have to hand the person over to the police as soon as possible because the police can do the actual processing. [That’s] assuming that they’re deployed in support of the police rather than in the protection of national infrastructure,” said Heitman.

Deploying the military was a serious task “never to be taken lightly or done without good justification,” director at conflict research consultancy African Defence Review Darren Olivier warned previously.

On Sunday, Olivier tweeted: “This is a desperate action by a state that’s losing control and it’s an extremely worrying development.”

He added: “It’s not a long-term solution, nor are military engineers experts in large power stations or military intelligence experts in infiltrating criminal networks. Where’s the South African Police Service and State Security Agency?”

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said Eskom welcomed SANDF’s support.

“This intervention clearly demonstrates that days of malfeasance and nefarious activities will be dealt with by the government,” he said.

“This is expected to ensure that we continue to respond to security-related threats and risks to South Africa’s essential energy infrastructure; coordinate all security-related operations to protect South Africa’s essential energy infrastructure through proactive crime detection.”

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– Additional reporting by Faizel Patel





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