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UPDATE 2-South Africa's power cuts to continue as Eskom battles shortages

Updated: 18-03-2019 17:26 IST
UPDATE 2-South Africa's power cuts to continue as Eskom battles shortages

South Africa's state utility Eskom said it would continue making power cuts this week as it struggles with capacity shortages that threaten to stymie President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to boost investments and economic growth. Eskom supplies more than 90 percent of the power in Africa's most industrialised economy but has suffered repeated faults at its coal-fired power station fleet, low water levels at hydro-power plants and diesel shortages.

The situation worsened on Saturday after Eskom, which has roughly 45,000 megawatts capacity, lost its usual electricity imports from the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric system in Mozambique, which contributes more than 1,000 MW to the South African grid. Mozambique was hit by a powerful cyclone which knocked out communications and electricity pylons last week.

Eskom, which is also labouring under 420 billion rands ($29 billion) of debt, said late on Sunday it would continue to implement rolling blackouts on Monday and Tuesday with 4,000 megawatts to be cut from the national grid on a rotational basis. The rand currency weakened as the power cuts weighed on sentiment.

"It's having a huge impact on households, individual people, hospitals and on the economy as well, so it's a very worrying situation," Ramaphosa told eNCA television on Monday, referring to the power shortage. "Every hour of the day we are trying to restore the power generation we have lost," he added.

The outages expose the risks to South Africa from Eskom's virtual monopoly and the failure of successive governments to take on labour unions and leftists in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) who oppose change. DISRUPTIVE TO ECONOMY

Eskom's power station performance has deteriorated steeply in part because of delays to critical maintenance work, and long-term neglect means there are no quick fixes. Eskom's ageing power plants that are between 37 and 50 years old could come under further strain as demand picks up with South Africa heading into southern hemisphere winter, which begins in earnest in June.

The power cuts have disrupted businesses across the country, a reminder of the risks to economic growth ahead of a parliamentary election in May. Charles Hutamo, who owns a panel beating business in Johannesburg, said he has to rely on a borrowed power generator during blackouts.

"I don't know if Eskom will fix the problem in future, maybe I must vote EFF," he said, referring to the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party. The Ministry of Public Enterprises, which oversees Eskom, said in a statement late on Sunday that the utility would be assisted to fast-track the procurement of essential goods and services required to rehabilitate and repair generating units at local power stations.

A team of experts has been appointed to assess Eskom's technical challenges and the cabinet said last week a preliminary report should be produced within a month. Looking to supplement its ageing power plants, Eskom is developing the Kusile and Medupi projects, but both are years behind schedule and tens of billions of rands over budget. The few units at Kusile and Medupi which are online perform unreliably.

The government has promised to inject 23 billion rand a year over the next three years to shore up Eskom's balance sheet, although there are signs that more money could be needed. ($1 = 14.4239 rand) (Additional reporting by Lynette Ndabambi; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo Editing by David Holmes and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)