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De Ruyter’s energy apartheid: Eskom’s load shedding policy in SA’s townships raises eyebrows

Eskom and Load shedding... An early morning picture taken at Matla Power Station in Mpumalanga Province. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Eskom and Load shedding... An early morning picture taken at Matla Power Station in Mpumalanga Province. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Published May 18, 2022


Durban - As the state of shambles continues at Eskom, with the entity unable to keep the lights on, the power utility has defended its long hours of darkness in South African townships and stated that it pulled off the plug to stop the theft of electricity.

Responding to questions as to why load reduction was consistently implemented for longer hours in townships compared to areas located in the suburbs, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said that load reduction was implemented in areas where the theft of electricity is rife.

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“This happens through illegal connections and other tampering with Eskom’s infrastructure. The abuse of electricity that results from this theft causes damage to infrastructures such as transformers and mini substations.

“Eskom’s response is to implement load reductions in these areas to arrest the destruction of infrastructure, which deprives law-abiding and paying customers of electricity in these areas while costing Eskom billions of rands in damaged infrastructure and lost sales,” he said.

Mantshantsha added: “Eskom’s electricity supply networks were designed for a specific amount of demand. Load reduction is implemented to manage these risks.”

However, an Eskom executive who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal challenged the entity and said that switching off the lights subjected black people in townships to “indiscriminate blackouts coated as load reductions”.

“It would have been more respecting and fair to these communities if Eskom would have shared data supporting their alleged illegal connection, similar to the data they share pertaining to performance (EAF),” said the Eskom executive.

Energy expert and former Eskom executive Ted Blom lashed out at the entity and said that the executives at the power utility were being “frugal with the truth”.

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On April 29, the University of Johannesburg's (UJ) Centre for Sociological Research and Practice (CSRP) released a research report exploring the experiences, responses, and solutions in Soweto to the energy crisis in South Africa.

In a scathing 83-page report titled “Energy racism: The electricity crisis in South Africa”, the report found that the entity’s CEO Andre De Ruyter implemented “racist” policies targeting the black working-class communities who bore the burden of the electricity crisis.

“Starting during the cold, Covid-restricted winter of 2020, he imposed policies even more biased in race-class terms, especially ‘load reduction’, and became less willing to cross-subsidise power to meet poor people’s needs.

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“Under the De Ruyter administration, an apartheid-style collective punishment strategy began: ‘load reduction.’ After six months on the job, De Ruyter began mass disconnections in Soweto and many other areas – including bankrupt dorpies – penalizing all residents and businesses, even those who had paid their bills,” read the UJ report.

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