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South Africa power cuts dent Ramaphosa’s poll hopes

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Monday, 18 March 2019 13:44

Power cuts are hurting small businesses as well as the ANC. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Between a rock and a dark place, President Cyril Ramaphosa has yet again apologised to all South Africans for persistent power cuts due to Eskom’s load shedding.

Ramaphosa’s problem: the economic reality of the failing utility Eskom, which needs serious reform, versus the political reality of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), on whom the ANC will depend to deliver victory in May’s elections.

  • Raising the temperature, Eskom says the country will face electricity cuts until Wednesday.
  • The powerful mining trade union has threatened to shut down the country’s power grid in the days leading up to the elections following a deadlock with government about the future of Eskom.

All hands on deck: the power utility said its electricity-generation system is still under pressure due to the decline in its water reserves and coal supplies.

  • The loss of more than 1000 MW supply from Cahora Bassa hydroelectric system in Mozambique due to cyclone Idai has led to “stage 4 load shedding”, meaning Eskom is trying to preempt a national blackout.

With an election six weeks away and the ANC in full campaigning mode, the party’s head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, has had to defend Ramaphosa and Eskom.

  • Like all good workmen, Mbalula pins the blame on the previous cowboys who failed to prevent the rot, blaming the “mismanagement” of the Zuma years.
  • Mbalula says the load shedding will be fixed in the next few weeks.

That might not cut it on the election trail.

  • Multiple analysts say corruption is the key problem. 
  • The opposition is using Eskom as a campaigning issue, too. The Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane says Ramaphosa’s apology is empty words: “President Cyril Ramaphosa played a central role in the systematic collapse of Eskom which has led to the electricity crisis our nation is currently experiencing.”

Pravin Gordhan, the minister for public entreprises, says: “It is clear that greater urgency needs to be applied to acquire equipment necessary for urgent maintenance. We agree with South Africans that the continuation of frequent load shedding, and in particular stage four load shedding, is unacceptable and disruptive to our economy.”

Pinch point: Ramaphosa is to meet the NUM along with Gordhan and energy minister Jeff Radebe today to discuss the union’s rejection of plans to split Eskom into three units.

  • The NUM said on its Twitter account that Ramaphosa “is willing to listen to concerns raised by thousands of workers with regard to the unbundling of Eskom”.

Watch out for: The continuing power cuts could dent the ANC’s ambitious plans of winning more than 55% of the vote in May.

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