South Africa’s energy crisis is now a major disaster that needs urgent fixing, according to experts who believe the government’s failure to invest in new power plants is at the root of the problem.
The frequency and duration of the rolling power cuts to households and businesses are now at unprecedented levels. President Cyril Ramaphosa this week announced that the ruling African National Congress party is pushing to declare a national state of disaster as a way out of the crisis.
“Work is already underway within government to establish whether the legal requirements of a national state of disaster are met and what specific actions we would be empowered to undertake,”
Ramaphosa said. “A national state of disaster will enable us to have the instruments necessary to fully implement the challenges that our nation faces.”
South Africa last invoked the measure in 2020 to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clyde Mallinson, a Johannesburg-based energy expert. says there would have been no need for such an apprehensive atmosphere if Ramaphosa’s government had been proactive.
“I am afraid we are in a disaster terrain at the moment. It is almost like a war-like [situation],” Mallison told DW.
“At this stage, it is really frustrating because many of us have been calling and predicting this crisis for some time and the message that we’ve had is: do something with a degree of urgency before the crisis becomes a disaster.”
No alternative to coal
South Africa generates approximately 85% of its energy from coal. The national power utility, Eskom, has the capacity to generate up to 45,000 megawatts but it has been unable to supply even 27,000 MW, giving rise to power cuts or load-shedding that can last several hours a day.
The lack of proper energy management has meant that no significant supply alternatives exist, Mallison says.
“We haven’t put in enough new capacity in place to cover for the decline in the output of the coal fleet. So, the coal fleet has been getting older and it hasn’t been declining lineally. It’s starting to decline exponentially,” he told DW.
The crisis has taken too long to fix, says South African economic analyst and senior fellow at the African Liberty policy think tank, Phumlani Majozi. “The whole issue began 16 years ago, and it hasn’t been resolved yet. It has been a distraction,” he told DW.
South Africans feel let down by their government, according to Majozi. Mismanagement and incompetence have compounded the energy crisis, he told DW.
“There is that frustration and anger among South Africans brewing that this thing should have been resolved and it is the failure of our leaders.”
Businesses are suffering
Households and businesses are now without power for up to 10 hours a day because of load-shedding. The lingering crisis is costing one of Africa’s leading economies hundreds of millions of dollars every day, Majozi says.
The tourism and hospitality sectors are getting battered, the economic analyst says. “There has been massive destruction to restaurants in the country, so the impact has been very much huge.”
Thando Makhubu who runs a restaurant in Soweto, Johannesburg, says a power generator keeps his business afloat.
“We are fortunate that we have invested in a generator. But the costs of running Soweto Creamery, have grown, because we need to purchase petrol on a regular basis,” Makhubu told DW.
A regional crisis
Eskom’s problems have sparked concerns around southern Africa as it sells energy generated in South Africa to its neighbors including Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, eSwatini and Zimbabwe.
Haggai Chifunda, who runs a barber in Zambia, says he has been losing clients because of power outages in the capital Lusaka.
“We are struggling to stay in this small business because of many hours of load-shedding. I have been losing customers instead of gaining customers,” he told DW.
Experts say that business owners like Chifunda and Makhubu of Soweto Creamery may have to prepare to face even worse conditions .
In South Africa, hospitals have not spared some of the worst power cuts on record in South Africa in recent weeks.
The medical equipment is largely unaffected by power cuts at the SK Matseke Memorial Hospital in Soweto, says hospital managere Kgolo Matseke. But there are other risks to patients.
“For example, we have our elevators that are obviously put onto the generators, which keep going on and off, which have also put patients in very dangerous situations. By being inside there and not being able to be able to get out,” Matseke told DW.
The frequent power cuts are seen as compromising in the country where the level of crime is high.
Shoquat Suliman, a security analyst who chairs the a community policing forum in the Johannesburg suburb of Bramley, says citizens in crime-prone areas are living in constant fear.
“People are scared to even use the roads at night,” Suliman told DW. “The intersection right behind me is one of the hotspots [where] people are getting robbed, getting mugged [and where] cars are being stolen at gunpoint. So, those are the issues that we face during load-shedding, especially when it’s pitch black at night.”
Is an end to the crisis in sight?
Eskom has asked South Africans to prepare for two to three more years of load-shedding. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said the government has a plan to improve energy provision and end the need for load-shedding.
“Eventually in the next 12-18 months we will be able to say load-shedding is a thing of the past. That is the target,” Godongwana, was quote by Reuters as saying.
Ramaphosa canceled his trip to Davos as load-shedding and public outrage peaked.
The current crisis of non-functioning power stations could mean load-shedding for much longer than foreseen, the energy expert Clyde Mallinson told DW.
“In an electricity system, you’ve got to match supply and demand instantaneously, exactly. The reason we have loadshedding or load reduction in South Africa is that it’s to prevent the grid from collapsing,” he said.
Majozi agrees that the crisis is likely to endure and points out that not many people agree with the government’s projections.
“People in businesses in general, they do not buy the idea that within a space of 12 to 18 months we are going to see some improvement,” Majozi told DW.
Currently only 11% of South Africa’s power comes from renewables, and that is mostly wind
Majozi says that resorting to renewable energy sources to augment the current supply could be key to resolving the crisis in the long run.
“Renewables is an opportunity. We need to find a way to see how it can help our energy challenges.”
Source: All Africa