Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan called a surprise media briefing late yesterday to reassure South Africans that the power will remain on, as the country headed into Stage 6 load shedding.
A total blackout is where the transmission grid collapses completely, and he said the country was not in any danger of that.
Gordhan said he expected Eskom’s illegal wage strike to end today, and this was the main cause of power deficit in amid winter.
Gordhan largely blamed the worsening energy crisis on the strike, which had started on June, 22 by some Eskom workers. He spent a long time detailing incidents of intimidation to staff, which had led to 90 percent of the staff not being able to attend to their duties at the power stations, and staying at home.
“Today this industrial action has worsened the situation in terms of the production of electricity of Eskom in amid winter,” he said.
Gordhan condemned the strike intimidation and said it was “completely unacceptable”.
The minister said, “The strike intimidation is causing a huge amount of damage to South Africa’s reputation, but also the ability to ensure that we continue to grow as an economy and continue to provide households with electricity that they require and, importantly, industry.”
The blackouts are a disaster for the economy, which has been hard hit by the financial wrecking ball of Covid-19 and is struggling to recover, but as it also has to face the geopolitical fallout from the war in Ukraine, which has led to high inflation globally, and rising interest rates.
Gordhan said the country recognised the importance of energy security.
However, the minister said he was given the assurance by Eskom yesterday that everything would be done to bring the country to normality as far as supply of electricity was concerned, sooner rather than later.
He said that as a result of extensive negotiations between some of the unions and Eskom management, an agreement of a settlement would be released soon.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which was initially demanding a 15 percent increase – across the board – for its members, later revised down its demands to 12 percent at the third round of negotiations in early June.
Eskom would be putting out a statement on the wage strike imminently, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said in the briefing.
Gordhan said: “We are holding that all the staff return to work tomorrow. The clean-up process and the start of all the normal operational processes will commence during the course of the day.”
Second, where the maintenance of units was interrupted by intimidatory tactics, staff should be able to enter the power stations today, which should have those maintenance activities continuing today as well, he said.
Third, as a consequence of these moves more power units would be able to come back online.
He explained that each level of load shedding represented 1 000MW taken out of the system.
So Level 6 meant that 6 000MW could not be supplied by Eskom, as demand outstripped supply.