JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting with his cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the country’s power crisis, which has led to unprecedented levels of blackouts across the country in Africa’s most developed economy.
Troubled state power company Eskom, which produces about 95% of the country’s electricity, has been introducing planned periodic blackouts in a bid to save power while struggling to keep its aging and poorly maintained coal-fired power plants running.
Ramaphosa returned home to lead a meeting with his ministers after attending Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London. He canceled a trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
Eskom has begun rolling out Stage 6 blackouts, which mean businesses and homes are without power for more than 10 hours a day. The company has since downgraded it to Stage 5, which requires South Africans to be without power for up to eight hours a day.
The outages also affect other public services, including water supply in some areas when electric pumps are shut down.
With South Africa’s economy already struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, economists have issued dire warnings about the effects of power cuts.
Earlier this year, Eskom introduced less severe blackouts – what the company calls load shedding – and they were a key contributor to the 0.7% contraction in the economy in the second quarter, according to the official South African government. statistical agency StatsSA.
Sometimes Eskom reports an outage in just a few hours.
“It is very difficult to understand what will happen next,” said Jani Rossow, an economist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “Will the load-shedding stages diminish over time, will we return to stage 6, or may we even go beyond stage 6 in the coming months?”
“It’s almost impossible for the general public and businesses in South Africa to plan if Eskom can’t plan its capacity,” said Rossouw.
Virtually every economic sector has been affected, with South Africa’s biggest telecommunications companies warning this week that ongoing power outages could begin to affect their services.
MTN South Africa’s chief technology and information officer, Michele Gamberini, said it was currently using upgraded battery backups to keep cell towers running, but extended outages could result in service loss.
“Even though we’ve deployed thousands of batteries at our sites across the country, the efficiency of those batteries drops significantly once we go through Stage 4 load shedding,” Gamberini said.
The company has also rolled out more than 2,000 diesel generators at its sites to cope with extended power outages.
Eskom is in a race against time to acquire additional capacity from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar through independent power producers. He announced a program to urgently purchase at least 1,000 megawatts of electricity from the private sector to ease the burden of blackouts.
Ramaphosa is facing pressure from opposition parties, who have called on him to sack ministers responsible for state-owned enterprises and the energy sector. His government defended itself by saying it had taken over the dysfunctional Eskom, which was at the center of allegations of massive government corruption under former president Jacob Zuma.
“We deeply regret that our power supply, which comes from Eskom, is upsetting both our households and the economy,” Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Newsroom Afrika. “But this is the Eskom we inherited, this is the Eskom we are trying very hard to fix.”
Ramaphosa’s rivals are already making moves to oust him as leader of the ruling African National Congress at the party’s elective conference in December.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.