Warning over load shedding revolt as South Africa hits 100 consecutive days of blackouts

 ·7 Feb 2023

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe says that the ongoing energy crisis in South Africa is an “irritation” to society, and if it is not resolved, it could lead to a revolt among the populace.

Speaking at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba on Monday (6 February), the minister said that the ongoing power supply disruptions through load shedding had a significantly negative impact on society and the economy at large.

For the mining industry, in particular, load shedding and other domestic factors like freight and transport bottlenecks have contributed to an overall decline in the sector.

“South Africa experienced more power supply disruptions in 2022. This led to a decline in mineral production across all commodities. It is estimated that load shedding costs the economy about R1 billion a day,” he said.

Estimates from the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) are that the country loses around R900 million a day at stage 6. The central bank has cut the country’s GDP growth prospects for 2023 to a paltry 0.3% in 2023 on the basis that blackouts have cut two percentage points of growth from the economy.

At the centre of our current energy challenges, Mantashe said, is the decline in the Energy Availability Factor (EAF) from an estimated 75% to 49%.

He said that the most feasible and logical option to resolve load shedding is thus arresting the decline in the EAF.

“Failure to attend to and address the declining Eskom plant performance and subsequent higher stages of load shedding is an irritation to society and has the potential of pitting society against the government,” he said.

Civil society is already mobilising against the government over the power crisis, with opposition parties like the DA rallying members to march on the ANC’s Luthili House, and the EFF setting a date for what it intends to be a ‘national shutdown’ over poor governance of the crisis.

Smaller initiatives have also circulated over social media and community groups, trying to push back against what many see as a lack of urgency and action over the crisis.

100 days of load shedding

South Africans have suffered through the worst levels of load shedding on record, with rolling blackouts hitting every single day of 2023 so far.

Load shedding has been implemented on a near-permanent basis since 6 September 2022, with only two days where outages were completely suspended (9 and 30 October).

Counting consecutive days with no suspended load shedding, South Africa has now hit 100 days with outages hitting every single day since 31 October 2022.

The country experienced 207 days of load shedding in 2022, with the SARB projecting over 200 days in 2023.

Mantashe presented a brief four-point plan of focus to address the crisis:

  • Improve EAF through a focused, funded and planned maintenance of existing power stations.
  • Procure emergency or short-term power from existing facilities and other private power plants.
  • Purchase additional electricity from neighbouring countries which can be unblocked in the short to medium term.
  • Improve skills capacity at Eskom.

This plan is a separate but similar plan to that of the Eskom board, presented last week. The board’s five-point plan to tackle the energy crisis includes the following:

  • Generation recovery by protecting three top-performing power stations and improving the six worst-performing stations.
  • Ensure the Koeberg Nuclear Power Stations comes back online on schedule.
  • Ensure that Eskom does not run out of money for diesel to power its open-cycle gas turbines.
  • Protect the people and culture of Eskom and ensure that workers are incentivised, which will boost morale.
  • Work with government enablers to help create the environment for new capacity to be introduced to the grid.

Read: Stage 6 load shedding costs South Africa R900 million a day: SARB

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