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The big story: Dark days aren’t over

It’s entirely possible that you’re reading this Wrap by candlelight – because, along with death, taxes, the wind in Cape Town and delays to Jacob Zuma’s trial, load shedding has become a fact of life in South Africa. 😑

The black-outs started last week and rolled into this week, making for a less than “lit” Easter weekend. Heavy rains were the culprit this time: they, you guessed it, resulted in wet coal (another South African axiom, alas). When coal is wet it becomes sticky and slimy and this can often lead to blockages in generating units. That leads to breakdowns and low generating capacity. Last week at least six different units lost generation capacity and this week has brought more capacity crises. Eskom announced yesterday that stage 2 load shedding will continue until tomorrow. 

This won’t be the end of our old friend, darkness. Winter is coming (maybe we could borrow some dragons from the Game of Thrones universe to light up our lives?) and Eskom has warned of between 37 and up to 101 days of load shedding. That’s because we’ll be using more electricity to stay warm…and our old, poorly maintained generation units can’t handle the pressure. Get out the gas stove, clean your fireplace and invest in a decent pair of gloves, we guess.

But here’s the thing: while we can manage our own power usage, it’s not up to us to fix Eskom’s many problems. The power utility’s CEO, Andre de Ruyter, seemed to acknowledge this when he outlined measures the government could take to alleviate the pressure on the grid. These measures included increased reliance on existing independent power producers to supply electricity to the national grid, as well as asking government and the National Energy Regulator to support Eskom’s initiative for small generators to supply Eskom on three-year contracts. He also called on the National Treasury to compensate Eskom for revenue lost through municipalities’ unpaid bills. Money doesn’t seem to help, though: the government has already poured billions of rands into the power utility, which is R392 billion in debt, but in the 14 years that load shedding has been around, few changes have occurred. A shift to renewables and a loosening of the Eskom monopoly is the final solution – both are in the works but there’s a long road ahead. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 21 April  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.