Eskom's load shedding has also affected matric learners in the Western Cape currently writing their NSC examinations. File picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Eskom's load shedding has also affected matric learners in the Western Cape currently writing their NSC examinations. File picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Darkness descends on South Africa as Eskom pulls plug on power

By yethu Dlamini Time of article published Oct 17, 2019

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Furious workers’ unions have blamed the latest load shedding that affected the start of matric exams on the Eskom board and are calling for its immediate removal.

The workers claimed the board was unfit to rescue the power utility from blackouts that hit most parts of the country on Thursday and were expected to last for a week.

The load shedding came as a surprise a month after Eskom dismissed claims that it was planning to cut power.

“As a result of the loss of additional generation, delays in the return to service of units that are on planned maintenance and limited diesel supply, it has become necessary to implement stage 2 rotational load-shedding from 9am until 11pm to protect the power system from a total collapse,” Eskom said.

Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said they had no trust and confidence that the board would turn around the situation at the power utility.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the current blackouts were vindication of their initial loss of confidence in the Jabu Mabuza-led board.

“The board is not going to help us fix the power utility. They were brought in to ensure that everything was in place and avoid scenarios of this kind (load shedding).

“The board is unqualified to deliver turnarounds for the power utility. The fact that we are still talking about haemorrhaging resources, failing to account, and load shedding, these are clear indications that it must go,” said Pamla.

He said with the dire state of the economy, the country could not afford load shedding.

NUM youth secretary Bonginkosi Mrasi echoed Pamla’s sentiments, saying the board had no interest in growing and bringing stability to the power utility.

"The only mission they have is to retrench workers,” said Mrasi.

He said the R59billion that Treasury allocated to the utility in February would go down the drain if the current management remained in charge.

Mrasi added that Eskom was aware of the current load shedding threat and should have ensured power stations were maintained.

Eskom spokesperson Dikatso Mothae, however, labelled the outages as unplanned occurrences.

Mothae said: “We did mention on our summer plans that if we were able to contain unplanned outages below 9500 megawatts then there would be no load shedding. Now we have unplanned outages that are above 10 500MW.”

The Department of Basic Education also raised concerns, saying the announcement was unfortunate as it coincided with the start of the matric exams.

It said learners needed to write subjects - computer applications technology (CAT) and information technology - that needed power.

At least 30 exam centres for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) were affected by load shedding in the Western Cape on their first day of their CAT exam on Wednesday.

Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “We, however, have a back-up exam which can be scheduled if there are candidates who are not able to write this exam. Contingency plans are always put in place to accommodate situations of this nature.”

In Sandton, motorists were also stuck for hours in traffic.

Eskom acknowledged in Parliament last week that load shedding had cost the economy billions of rand. The utility was drowning in R45billion of debt before it received an allocation of R26bn for the 2019/20 financial year and R33bn for 2020/21 year.

According to a recent report by the Mail and Guardian, taxpayers would be burdened with roughly R10bn bill over the next six years, because Eskom had failed to negotiate a standard price for the coal it used to keep the lights on.

The report revealed that Eskom had contracted 16 coal-producing companies to provide it with more than 70million tons of coal in the next six years at a cost of more than R38bn.

But the utility could have saved about R10bn, or nearly R4.5m, a day had it negotiated a better deal.

Despite union criticism, energy expert Chris Yelland believed that Eskom had no control over the rolling blackouts.

“Eskom communication with the public is poor. It should keep us informed on how close we are to the edge, but we only hear about the breakdowns when we cross the line and go to load shedding,” he said.

Yelland said the stage 2 load shedding was caused by technical problems that started at the weekend. “Eskom experienced a number of generators problems relating to boiler tube leaks. The problem continued hard on Monday, Tuesday and finally today  (Monday) we have load shedding,” he said.

According to him, the supply went down after six generators packed up. “Half of Koeberg power station was down for refuelling, Medupi power station was running on one third of its normal output and there were also technical problems at the Grootvlei power station.”

He said breakdowns were due to old power plants being pushed too hard with inadequate maintenance over the years.

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