South Africa’s Blackouts Don’t Take a Break—Even on a Holiday

Mike Cohen and Colleen Goko
South Africa’s Blackouts Don’t Take a Break—Even on a Holiday

(Bloomberg) -- Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. is cutting 4,000 megawatts from South Africa’s electricity grid on Thursday, giving consumers no respite even on a public holiday, as it continues rotating outages that seek to lower demand and avoid a collapse of the network.

It’s the eighth day of blackouts that have disrupted business and sparked outrage in a country that’s home to the continent’s most-industrialized economy, posing a challenge for the ruling African National Congress as it prepares for elections in May.

South Africa’s radio stations and newspapers have been inundated with complaints from consumers who blame the government and the state-run utility for blackouts that have plunged large tracts of the country into darkness. Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has said it will take up to two weeks to determine how long the outages will last, warning that Eskom may need between one and two years to stabilize electricity supplies.

Eskom, which supplies 95 percent of South Africa’s power, was at the epicenter of a mismanagement scandal during former President Jacob Zuma’s rule that saw its finances deteriorate to such an extent that it couldn’t adequately service its aging plants or generate enough money to service its debt and pay its operating expenses.

Making Headway

The ANC forced Zuma to step down 13 months ago and replaced him with his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who had begun to make headway in rebuilding support for the party prior to the latest round of power outages -- among the worst the country has ever seen.

In an editorial published Wednesday, the Business Day newspaper said power shortages pose the main electoral threat to the ANC and could cost it control of the Gauteng province, an economic hub that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“What has become clear over the past days is that there is no plan to fix this mess,” Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, told supporters outside Eskom’s Johannesburg headquarters on Wednesday.

A poll before the latest power cuts showed the ANC’s dominance of politics looked set to continue, estimating support at 61 percent of the electorate. Thursday marks Human Rights Day in South Africa.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net;Colleen Goko in Johannesburg at cgoko2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gordon Bell at gbell16@bloomberg.net, Michael Gunn, Paul Richardson

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