By Staff Reporters

The government has been unsuccessful in assuming control over Eskom, resulting in a severe power crisis that has plunged the nation into a state of disaster. Citizens are grappling with the harsh reality of frequent power outages and the devastating impact it has on their daily lives.

Despite experiencing rolling blackouts since 2008, the extended power outages that have plagued South Africa for several months have been particularly challenging to withstand. The root of the problem lies with Eskom, which provides over 90% of the country’s electricity, and is struggling to meet the demand due to outdated and inadequately maintained power plants.

In light of the ANC’s potential loss of majority in the 2024 elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national “state of disaster” in February, which has now been withdrawn. This declaration was made to allow his administration to bypass bureaucratic obstacles and expedite the implementation of new electricity projects and equipment repairs.

What are the underlying factors that have led to the present difficulties encountered by Eskom?

Eskom has been beset by a history of substantial financial losses and poor planning, compounded by allegations of mismanagement and graft. The power utility encountered financial difficulties in the early 1980s due to its decision to build facilities that were deemed unnecessary. However, following the collapse of the racist regime in 1994, the company was ill-equipped to handle the significant surge in demand resulting from the electrification of previously marginalized communities.

Over the course of the following twenty years, Eskom encountered irregular government decision-making and political interference, leading to a deficiency in power generation capacity and frequent disruptions in the provision of electricity. The organization has undergone a turnover of fourteen leaders since 2007, with a notable portion of this taking place during the nine-year tenure of Jacob Zuma as the president.

According to a judicial commission, the turmoil at Eskom was a calculated endeavor by individuals who were allegedly associated with Zuma, and had his tacit endorsement, aimed at embezzling its funds. Zuma has denied the allegation.

The executives at Eskom have asserted that the organization has not been granted the authority to impose electricity tariffs that are adequate to meet its expenditures. The previous CEO, Andre de Ruyter, had confrontations with the energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, and left abruptly in February.

What are the consequences that have resulted?

The South African Reserve Bank projected a meagre 0.3% growth in the economy for 2023, which is a significant decline from the previously projected growth rate of 2.5% for 2022. This downward trend is attributed to the anticipated intensification of power rationing, which is expected to reduce the growth rate by 2 percentage points.

The intentional power outages implemented by Eskom to decrease demand have had a detrimental impact on various essential services. Water services have been affected as pumps cannot operate without electricity, food safety has been compromised as refrigerators cannot maintain cold temperatures, and hospitals have experienced difficulties in providing adequate care.

These power outages, caused by load shedding to prevent a complete grid failure, are undermining business confidence in a country where major industries like mining rely on consistent and affordable electricity.

Does the matter of coal pertain solely to South Africa?

Unfortunately, it is not. South Africa’s heavy reliance on coal, which is widely recognised as the most environmentally damaging fossil fuel, for 80% of its electricity production has far- reaching implications that extend beyond our borders.

Coal combustion emits nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. Encouraging countries to transition away from coal is a critical element of the global effort to address climate change.

At the COP26 climate conference held in Glasgow in 2021, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, and France pledged to provide South Africa with $8.5 billion in funding to support the transition to renewable energy sources and reduce our carbon footprint.

What is the proposed strategy to address the issues facing Eskom?

In February the government made a commitment to take up to two-thirds of Eskom’s debt, which amounts to R396 billion, as part of a series of financial rescues aimed at stabilizing the company.

Additionally, regulations pertaining to licensing requirements for companies interested in constructing their own power plants have been eliminated, and they will be permitted to sell any excess energy to the grid.

President Ramaphosa also appointed a Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa who is solely responsible for enhancing the electricity supply.

What is the reason for coal’s continued dominance in South Africa’s energy sector?

South Africa possesses ample coal reserves, and approximately 90,000 individuals are employed in coal mines which supply Eskom stations.

Eskom, which was established in 1923, expeditiously constructed coal-powered electricity generation facilities, driven by the demands of the country’s gold mining industry, which is the largest globally.

During the 1970s, the power utility initiated the construction of a modernized set of facilities that are still functional today, including the sole nuclear power plant on the African continent. Despite the availability of ample coal, the process of constructing additional plants to utilize it over the past decade has been a challenging endeavor.

In 2007, proposals were put forth for the construction of two colossal coal-fired facilities, namely Medupi and Kusile, with a projected completion timeline of eight years and a combined expenditure of R163 billion. However, the construction process has been beset by labour disputes, corruption, maladministration, and equipment malfunctions. As a result, the overall cost has ballooned to over R460 billion.

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