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  • Sinovuyo Bhungane and her cousin Yonga study by candle light during load shedding in Soweto, South Africa, Feb. 3, 2015.

    Sinovuyo Bhungane and her cousin Yonga study by candle light during load shedding in Soweto, South Africa, Feb. 3, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 December 2018

Lights out: South African residents continue to go without power as the national company Eskom gives the grid a rest from demand it can't handle.

South Africa is staging more power cuts and outages said Eskom the country’s main electrical company Monday, doing so to prevent the collapse of its power grid.

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Eskom, which is battling a severe financial crisis, coal shortages since 2014, and power plant breakdowns, said it will cut up to 2,000 megawatts of power from the grid Monday. Amidst the planned outages taking place since last week, a major breaker southwest of the capital of Johannesburg “exploded … resulting in the loss of supply” to the region indefinitely, said the company in a Dec. 3 statement.    

The explosion came just as Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe announced Monday: "The entire week could be severely constrained if we are unable to replenish the diesel and water reserves and reduce the high unplanned outages." He added, "teams are working hard to salvage the situation but the process is going to be hard, long and costly."

The utility company, which last week called for a bailout, began the controlled cuts, known as load-shedding, Thursday as demand for power outstripped available capacity.

The Eskom load-sheds are in stage two of potentially eight and putting added strain on an economy already mired in recession months before a national election next May.

Ramaphosa has made reforming Eskom a priority, but a weak economy and low government funds have scared off international investors that might have helped the reforms. The outside investors have also been scared off by the president’s promise of much-needed land redistributions.

These land reforms, which the president called "of critical importance" to the economy are needed because, according to the government, about 72 percent of all South African arable land is in the hands of whites, while Blacks own just over eight percent.  

Ramaphosa's African National Congress (ANC) party initially vowed to transfer 30 percent of white-owned agricultural land to Black farmers by 1999 but has only managed to give over 10 percent so far.

A South Africa senior economist Jeff Schultz said prolonged power cuts would likely hurt economic growth in the first quarter of 2019.

"But come mid-January, if we are still facing load-shedding, that is when it is going to be a much more pressing issue for the economy," Schultz said.

According to Eskom, load shedding is implemented rotationally as a last resort to protect the power system from a total collapse.

“We continue to appeal to residents and businesses to use electricity sparingly during this period. Please switch off geysers as well as all non-essential lighting and electrical appliances to assist in reducing demand,’’ the state-run company said, which provides 95 percent of the country’s power.

 

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