Power failures in South Africa

In the last couple of days, I’ve blogged about the rising price of fuel in Britain but, down in South Africa, they are experiencing regular power cuts as the publicly-owned electricity provider Eskom fails to keep up with demand. Since the African National Congress came to power in 1994, South Africa has doubled the percentage of its population connected to the grid to more than 70%.
In 1998, a government report warned that, at the rate the economy was growing, the nation faced serious electricity shortages by 2007 unless capacity was expanded. The government, led by President Thabo Mbeki, who assumed office in June 1999, tried unsuccessfully to induce private investors to build additional power plants. Only recently did it permit Eskom to begin the necessary expansion.
I’ve been aware of the power problems in South Africa for some time because of e-mails from friends in the country, but the issue has started to be picked up by some of the world’s media such as this article in the “New York Times”.

One Comment

  • Gareth

    The issues surrounding Eskom are plentiful. There is a huge percentage of the population that are running illegal connections in the townships and the people suffering are the people that actually do pay for their consumption. Naturally, since people aren’t paying for their power, that cost falls on the shoulders of big businesses and private home owners.
    Some of the mines have commenced business but that is on a much smaller scale as before owing to power restrictions that have been imposed on them. Thousands of people are currently being let off work. These people will return to their homes, where previously, they were the sole bread winners. Their lack of income will prevent their ability to pay for their own consumption and result in them acquiring their own illegal connections, hastening the vicious cycle we have found ourselves in.
    Eskom currently have a monopoly of the purchasing and sale of power. The government tried to bring the private sector into the loop, but at the price eskom are paying for that power, nobody with their own finances in mind would even consider the proposal.
    The situation with the lack of private sector involvement is a carbon copy of the key element in our power production, the coal mines. The mines produce huge quantities of coal daily that gets sold to foreign countries. Eskom, in their attempt to keep the “price of power down”, pay their coal transporters next to nothing. Hundreds of companies have been forced to close, assisted by the rising price of fuel. The fee eskom are willing to pay transporters, no longer covers the cost of fuel. The coal storage sites have gone from 50-100m high mounds of coal, to flat black sand pits.
    The main issue is unfortunately South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment and it’s Affirmative Action policies. Skilled white employees have been retrenched to help uplift the previously disadvantaged. The problem is that the newly hired employees were never trained. Currently eskom are trying to coax people who left SA back to help sort out the mess they’ve created. In one instance, they re-employed an electrical engineer who had 50 years experience with eskom, he is currently in his late 70s.
    The quality of education has also taken a dive. So much so, that the educational level the up-and-coming engineers have, is far below market requirements.
    The resolution to these problems unfortunately mimic the modus operandi of the previous regime. Disconnecting the illegal connections and vigilantly policing them is in the “disadvantaged peoples” views, undemocratic. The re-employment of the previous white employees is viewed as undemocratic and against what the “freedom fighters” fought for. To admit to bad management at eskom, its associated mines and the education system, is to admit that the government are incompetent. When people decide to put their pride in their pockets, admit to their guilt and their need for assistance, South Africa will grow to its former world class standards.
    South Africa is a country of proud people, the chance of this happening is slim. All we can do is hope that the government don’t ignore it’s people by issuing the repairs to foreign investors who will increase our current debt and reduce the quality of life even more so for the people that really do need the help of someone. The people who never had power from the start.


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