Power Crisis - A Reality Facing South Africa

Wednesday, 9 April, 2008 - 06:09

According to Eskom, load shedding is when there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers.

According to Eskom, load shedding is when there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers. Eskom implements load shedding by interrupting the supply of electricity to certain areas.

Policy-makers and experts argue that load shedding is a national crisis that needs urgent attention from all sectors of South African society. According to Gino Govender, Executive Director of the Development Institute for Training Support and Education for Labour (DITSELA), South Africans should regard electricity as a need first, before it becomes a commodity.

While the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, admits that load shedding is a reality that South Africans will have to live with until 2013, there are people who blame the problem on factors such as affirmative action, lack of leadership at Eskom and the government.

In response to this, Sakhela Buhlungu of Wits University's Sociology of Work Project (SOP) maintains that, "We have to move away from theories and stereotypes, and just deal with the real issue." Buhlungu believes that the government took for granted other challenges when providing electricity to communities that were excluded during apartheid.

Load shedding threatens thousands of jobs, especially in the mining sector. According to Statistics South Africa, the mining production output for January 2008 decreased by 10,7% when compared with figures for the same period in 2007. 

In the same vein, the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is calling on the government to consider alternative energy sources in order to address the electricity crisis in the country. 

NUMSA Coordinator and Shopsteward at Eskom, Putus Tseki, cautions that load shedding leads to inequality in communities as not everyone is equal during load shedding. Tseki calls on the government to involve all South Africans in its national recovery plan.

On the other hand, the ability of hospitals and clinics to provide health services to patients is compromised during load shedding. Itumeleng Molathlegi of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) notes that the technology used at health institutions depends on electricity to operate.

According to Molathlegi, children born during load shedding will suffer from polio and other deficiencies in the next few years. He says health professionals at these institutions are unable to immunise new-born babies properly during load shedding.

There is a general feeling that government's R60 billion loan to Eskom is the driving factor behind the proposed 53% tariff increase. Molathlegi warns that if the National Energy Regulator of South Africa  (NERSA) approves the proposed increase, the poor will pay the price.

The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), an affiliate of the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), has also vowed to continue fighting against electricity cut-offs which it blames on privatisation. SECC's Trevor Ngwane condemns the government for providing subsidised electricity to business, while the poor are left out.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), on the other hand, slams the government for exporting tons of good quality coal to Germany. NUM, which predicted the electricity crisis in 1997, appeals to Eskom and government to learn from other countries such as Brazil, which was confronted with the same problem before.

In addition, South Africa is often blamed for producing 'cheap and dirty' electricity from Eskom's coal-fired power stations that pollutes the environment. To reiterate this view, Ngwane contends that this makes South Africa the leading culprit, after the United States, in producing carbon emissions.

NUM Sector Coordinator, Job Matsepe, further condemns Eskom and government for putting renewable energy projects on hold.

In an attempt to ease the electricity consumption, Eskom has embarked on an energy saving campaign since its national supply system is already operating under constrained conditions. Buhlungu maintains that in order for Eskom to manage the situation, it should not only put more emphasis on encouraging households, but also businesses, which he says are 'heavy consumers' of electricity in the country.

In another development, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported on 4 April 2008 that Parliament and the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) are trying hard to stop NERSA from fast tracking Eskom's controversial application to hike the electricity prices. NERSA plans to deal with the application in just two months, giving three weeks for written submissions and only one day for public hearings before making its decision on 6 June 2008.

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