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Faced with government ineptitude, Cape Town is going it alone

SA’s tourist hub is forging ahead with plans to secure its own energy supply.
Image: Bloomberg

As South Africa’s government struggles to provide sufficient electricity, public transport and other basic services, the country’s main tourist hub is increasingly going it alone.

Cape Town, which has been led by the opposition Democratic Alliance since 2006, is forging ahead with plans to secure its own energy supply. It’s also investigating the feasibility of taking over the city’s commuter rail network — currently operated by a state-owned company — and playing a role in getting the harbour to run more efficiently. And it’s hired more than 1 000 of its own security officers to complement the work of the police force, which it accuses of doing a dismal job of fighting gang violence and other crime.

The national government, which is led by the African National Congress, has been largely supportive of the city’s efforts, according to Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

“I would’ve expected a lot more push-back to be honest, but we haven’t experienced any,” he said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Cape Town offices on Tuesday. “The only real aggressive push-back we are getting is in the policing space, where we are so actively filling the void vacated by the slow collapse of the South African Police Service.”

Eskom Holdings, the utility that supplies the bulk of the nation’s electricity, has subjected the country to a series of rolling blackout since 2008, because its old and poorly maintained plants can’t keep pace with demand. In February, Cape Town initiated the process of sourcing 300 megawatts of generation capacity from private producers, likely to be mostly solar power, with contracts set to be awarded by the end of the year and the plants likely to come on line from 2026.

The city intends commissioning another 300 megawatts of capacity from large-scale storage or other sources of power that’s available on demand to help insulate residents and business from most electricity rationing, Geordin Hill-Lewis said. While the new plants will need to supply electricity at prices equal to or less than what Eskom does, the stored power would likely come at a premium.

“The long-term goal is to reduce reliance on Eskom,” the mayor said. While the city hasn’t undertaken a study into the cost of the power cuts, “I have no doubt that it would run into billions of rand,” he said.

Cape Town’s proposal to take over rail lines from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa are less advanced, with the National Treasury having recently approved a feasibility study that will start next month. Prasa has been dogged by mismanagement and vandalism, and is currently operating only about 153 train trips on an average week day — down from 444 in mid-2020.

Until a few years ago the passenger rail system “was basic and a real belts-and-braces operation, but it worked,” Hill-Lewis said. “It is really hard to express how that organisation has fallen apart, especially in the last decade to the extent that there is no capacity to run a train system at all.”

The mayor’s ideal scenario would be for the city to take over Prasa’s assets and infrastructure, and then appoint a private operator to upgrade and operate them and recoup the costs through ticket sales over 15 to 20 years. Several companies have expressed interest in the contract, and it would be ambitious but feasible for the system to be up and running by 2026, he said.

Besides the challenges of insufficient electricity and an inadequate public transport system, Cape Town has also had to contend with the fallout of the coronavirus and associated lockdown that have devastated in tourism industry, one of its main sources of income and employment. Before the pandemic, millions of tourists flocked to the city each year, attracted by its sandy beaches, iconic flat-topped Table Mountain and picturesque winelands.

“We have had kind of an elastic rebound so we are now back at about 85% of passenger numbers, so very close to pre-Covid levels,” Hill-Lewis said. “What’s really exciting is the number of airlines that are just flooding into Cape Town,” with 27 new weekly flights added since the pandemic eased, he said.

Hill-Lewis took over the mayor’s post in November last year and at 35 is the youngest-ever appointee to the post. He previously served as a lawmaker in the national parliament and was the DA’s finance spokesman.

Other highlights:

  • Cape Town’s finances are in good shape, with low levels of debt, and it has a capable civil service.
  • The city hasn’t invested sufficiently in infrastructure to keep pace with population growth and is trying to rectify the situation, but has limited capacity to implement complex projects.
  • Homelessness is major problem and the city is investing in new shelters and other accommodation to try and get people off the street.

© 2022 Bloomberg


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CPT should first fix its wastewater systems before they play with adult toys. They have absolutely no idea what is involved in taking the city off Eskom supply. If they think they have an idea they should get a second opinion from a credible international energy expert.

Peak demand for the city is about 2000MW. Their only generation is not actually generation it is a 180MW pumped storage system that takes a day to fill with Eskom energy. Short of going for Karpowerships they cannot do anything meaningful (even 20%) before 2025. Offgrid is a joke.

But yes take over rail and policing. Councils are going to have to do what business and residents have been doing for decades : self provision.
Healthcare, tick.
Education, tick.
Security, tick.
Household and business water, tick.
Roads and pavements, tick.
Household and business electricity, 80% ticked.

They and SAN Parks can’t even control the rampant baboons in the Southern Peninsula.

The biggest problem we have here is becoming the victim of our own success in that millions of Eastern Cape migrants plus the rest from other states moved in, creating vast shanty towns. Look at Google Maps. Copper theft seems to be a growth industry here so how they would protect the infrastructure is almost impossible. Actually, they need to swap the current rail system and install something completely innovative like overhead transport. or this one in Bologna

According to the population is now 4.8 million. It’s a mess…

But hey! Clad Table Mountain in solar panels and we’ll have cheap power and a new world first tourist attraction! 😉

I agree but feel that, in the mad SA context, “a credible international energy expert” may not be that easy to find. My take on CT and power is that they may be looking to a first world ideal where the power they need is not generated within the city but wheeled for just about anywhere in Southern Africa. If the stupid politics and obfuscation of the ANC controlled regulatory bodies and SOEs was removed CT could contract with say a power station in Botswana for power and so on.

I agree that they should encourage co generation by all and even new industries with the possibility of co generation to reduce reliance on the grid. If Brian Dames weren’t compromised by his Eskom fiddles I would even engage with Motsepe – he will get approvals where few others will.

But all theoretical pie in the sky in Afrika. CT cannot escape it.

Councils don’t like behind-the-meter power generation.

It reduces their profits : fewer kWh.

Once people have a lot of solar they are on the path toward a smart grid and dropping their grid use (kVA and kWh) and then they are gone as a milk cow forever.

Getting power from all over is not easy or cheap as all the parties along the way expect to be compensated for transporting your power, which is fair.

The concept of CPT being off Eskom is a joke for 20y. Eskom would need to sell Koeberg to CPT, but its availability factor is dicey and there are HUGE repairs coming. They could annex Langebaan and install gas stations but that is not cheap now that gas has gone up 300%

Well whether or not CT is getting their plans right or otherwise – they are trying to do something to prevent or reverse the rot. Don’t denigrate that effort!


One of the other articles is titled something like Bye Bye Eskom. By all means fix your grid, sort out electricity losses, improve energy efficiency, deploy solar everywhere you can, integrate client embedded energy – operate smarter. Saying Bye Bye Eskom makes you sound like a total idiot. What makes it worse is CPT cannot even run a sane wastewater system and almost ran out of water recently, now they want to play with BIG tools. I’ve always believed in under-promise-over-deliver. PR Headlines come back to haunt you.

btw I am VERY pro non-Eskom : by now we generate not far off a GWh and consume about same.

End of comments.



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