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S.African Army ‘Strong Presence’ at Troubled Power Plants

FILE - Steam rises at sunrise from the Lethabo Power Station, a coal-fired power station owned by state power utility ESKOM near Sasolburg, South Africa, March 2, 2016.

South Africa's army is making itself known and seen at some power stations in the country, sources report, after President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed the military last week amid a national power crisis and concerns of sabotage.

Sources in the South African National Defense Force told VOA that military engineers and intelligence officers are among the army personnel present at power stations.

Police have also arrested a number of people for allegedly “sabotaging” equipment essential to generate electricity.

"The move is one which was expected by the security industry and probably welcomed,” said Andy Grudko, a former Eskom security chief.

“There are people who are suggesting there are some political machinations behind this, where the problems Eskom were experiencing were not just criminal but politically inspired to pressurize Andre de Ruyter to leave the organization. So it’s a little bit of a Machiavellian situation right now,”Grudko said.

Some security analysts say the president’s intelligence services may have given him information to indicate that South Africa’s energy infrastructure is indeed in danger from external forces while others question the move to deploy the military.

“We’re not sure what they’re bringing, the military. They’re saying they’re bringing 10 guards to each power station. The situation at Eskom, they’ve diagnosed it so wrongfully. It’s far more complex than what they think,” said corporate security specialist Calvin Rafadi.

Rafadi says Eskom has become a “political battleground” that has also been infiltrated by organized crime syndicates stealing diesel, coal and equipment, something he says police and politicians should address, not the army.

The country has endured scheduled blackouts lasting up to 12 hours a day for the past six months, as the state electricity company, Eskom, struggles to provide power to Africa's most industrialized nation.

South Africa has grappled with power shortages for 15 years, disrupting lives and costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars.

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, appointed by Ramaphosa three years ago, resigned last week after senior members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) accused him of “mismanaging” the power crisis.

Throughout his tenure, de Ruyter complained of being “undermined” by corruption, organized crime and sabotage at Eskom.

In July last year, Ramaphosa sent soldiers to protect power plants when riots – allegedly instigated by supporters of former President Jacob Zuma – swept several cities.

Some of the information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.