CAPE TOWN - South Africa's Eskom should split its coal-fired plants from the rest of its generation business to free them from company bureaucracy in order to tackle the country's economically crippling power cuts, an independent report has found.

Publication of the report, commissioned by South Africa's National Treasury and compiled by the European-based vgbe consortium, coincided with new Eskom CEO Dan Marokane reporting for his first day of work on Friday.

The debt-laden utility is struggling to keep the lights on in Africa's most industrialised country, resulting in significant economic damage and social disruption.

The report listed a litany of problems at coal plants including complex and "dysfunctional" management systems, a lack of leadership and training and high levels of staff turnover.

"Unless there is immediate intervention, the situation will continue to escalate," the report said, adding that the outsourcing of maintenance to people unfamiliar with plant requirements has exacerbated a dire situation.

"The current electricity crisis can only be overcome in the power plants, which is why it is imperative that they are empowered right away to manage the technical turnaround, without being hampered by lengthy company procedures," it added.

The probe into South Africa's fleet of coal-fired plants, many 30-40 years old and prone to regular breakdowns, was to find the reasons for their low Energy Availability Factor (EAF) performance and help rectify the situation.

The EAF of Eskom's coal fleet, which has installed capacity of around 35,550 megawatts, is at about 51% compared with international benchmarks at around 78%, the report said.

Complex procedures hampered daily operations and meant maintenance challenges were not responded to quickly and effectively, the investigation found.

"Since operation and management procedures have not been carried out correctly for years, the overall condition of plant health is in many cases mediocre to poor," it said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Alexander Smith)