IN A country facing economic depression mainly because of its junk status, the ANC-led government is now in a rush to deal with load shedding, fearing it may be punished by voters in next year’s general elections.
This is according to energy expert Chris Yelland, who said the ruling party’s concern was not mainly about the negative impact load shedding had on the country’s fragile economy.
“I think this new urgency is driven ultimately not by the damages it (load shedding) is doing to the economy but the damages it is doing politically in the forthcoming election.
“That is really a wake-up call for the ANC, a wake-up call for the government,” said Yelland.
ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu has not responded to a request for comment on Yelland’s statement.
Yelland made the claims while the government seems to have tried to avert an up to stage eight load shedding, as opposed to previous predictions that the problem might escalate up to state 10 and beyond.
EFF leader Julius Malema had previously warned that the country might even experience a total blackout, something that has not happened yet.
This is also while the country struggles to come out of its three-year-old junk status situation.
In a recent interview with veteran broadcaster Jeremy Maggs, Yelland said although the government was beginning to handle the electricity situation, this was not enough.
It has been reported that the country’s macroeconomic environment had worsened in the first half of 2023 because of load shedding, among other challenges.
Yelland said load shedding was starting to hurt the government and the ruling party.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa revealed in May that load shedding had cost the country over 650 000 jobs in 2022 alone, and there was a prediction that 800 000 workers would be retrenched if the problem persisted.
Yelland does not see load shedding coming to an end any time soon because there was still more demand for electricity than what Eskom was able to supply, and there was a lack of a long-term plan to deal with the problem.
“But we have experienced this stage six for many, many months.
“I think this is now where the government is starting to realise that they have to take action otherwise they will be punished at the elections,” he said.
Explaining to Sunday Independent what the government should have done to improve the more than decade-old problem for the sake of the economy, not elections, Yelland said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration, which got into power in 2018, should have in the past five years come up with a comprehensive plan and implemented it.
Ramaphosa unveiled his five-point plan in July last year to end load shedding. The plan entailed improving Eskom’s existing power stations, accelerating new generation procurement, increasing private investment in generation capacity, enabling households and businesses to install rooftop solar systems and transforming the electricity sector.
“Because we want the economy to grow, we need additional new generation capacity whether it's gas-power, wind solar, battery, nuclear or whatever.
“We need a combined effort, not just the government but the private sector can also bring in generation capacity to help Eskom.
“There are a lot of things that can be done and should be done and must be done to relieve load shedding for the benefit of the economy,” he said.
He counted a handful of other measures that he said should have been implemented five years ago.
“They were not done five years ago because they were not focused on the problem, but it is now the election and there is the focus.
“It is not something that can be fixed in a week or a month, it takes two years to fix,” he said.
However, according to senior economist Azar Jammine it would take more than fixing the electricity problem to repair the damaged economy. He said junk status remained the elephant in the room.
As the country remains in junk status, the government may not have enough money to pay back what it has borrowed from foreign countries and would struggle to convince big corporations to invest in the country and create more much-needed job opportunities.
“There is a lot more than load shedding as we are three notches down into junk status, and we are deep into junk status,” said Jammine.
But Jammine admitted getting rid of load shedding would contribute to pulling the country out of junk status.
Even if we were to do the right thing right now, it would still take four years to get out of junk status.
“Even if the rating agencies improve our credit ratings, we will still be in junk status for quite a while until we rise three notches and that is gonna take many years,” he said.