ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has described Eskom’s inability to keep the lights on as “a positive crisis”.
Mantashe was speaking on Power FM following a scheduled meeting held by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) last week.
“It’s a crisis of demand exceeding supply. That is a positive crisis,” Mantashe said.
“Intervention cannot be instant in the sense that over the past 100 years, various white regimes connected 5 million households to the electricity grid, and over the past 20 years, we have added 7 million and the economy continues to grow, in some instances very moderately, and that increased the demand on the supply,” the secretary-general said.
On Tuesday (31 march) Eskom announced that its chairman Zola Tsotsi has stepped down, and will be replaced by Ben Ngubane as acting chairman.
The company is currently without its chief executive, Tshediso Matona, who along with three other executives, including the financial director, were suspended a week after they had initiated an audit into Eskom’s tender processes, Business Day reported.
Last week, Eskom secretly conducted a nationwide blackout simulation to test how its systems would handle a total loss of power.
The power utility has been forced into rolling blackouts in 2015 following the collapse of one of its coal storage silos, diesel shortages, and maintenance issues.
Power cuts implemented by the state owned entity costs South Africa’s economy between $1.7 billion (R20 billion) and $6.8 billion (R80.1 billion) a month.
World Bank data shows South Africa’s GDP at $350.6 billion (R4.1 trillion), meaning stage 3 load shedding wipes almost 2% of the country’s economic weight off the map.
“The solution will be to accelerate the growth of building generation capacity,” Mantashe told Power FM.
“Demand exceeding supply is a crisis, but it is a positive one, but there is a challenge of building more generation capacity,” he said.
When questioned why Eskom had failed to plan adequately for bringing more people on to the grid, Mantashe said: “Im not sure Eskom failed…one thing that we have made a public concession on, is that it is the leadership in government of the ANC that was slow in needing to be advised that by 2007, that this overcapacity was going to be exhausted.
“Building new capacity was delayed because there was this mythical belief that the private sector will build additional capacity.”
And while first unit of the Medupi coal-fired power station finally begun adding electricity to the national power grid earlier this month, there is a long wait ahead before the next unit is ready to follow.
Things are less certain for Kusile following a contract cancellation and renewed strikes. Both Medupi and Kusile are vital to Eskom to alleviate the strain on the grid.
The Minister of Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown, appeared before the portfolio committee on public enterprises last Thursday to brief the Committee on the challenges that state-owned companies are faced with.
Brown told the committee: “For the next coming two years the country will be facing load shedding”.