During a hastily convened media briefing on Wednesday night Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan tried to assure South Africans that the municipal elections on November 1 will not be disrupted by a lack of power.
Eskom has 100 mobile generators ready to assist voting stations countrywide, should it be necessary, he stated.
This comes as analysts warn that the ANC government may be punished at the polls for the latest round of load shedding that started at Stage 2 on Saturday (October 23) and intensified to Stage 4 four days later.
Wow – disastrous development for the ANC campaign. We’re in uncharted territory here. https://t.co/PDWAEdgr6m
— Dawie Scholtz (@DawieScholtz) October 27, 2021
Gordhan’s briefing came shortly after the ANC in a statement condemned the “anxiety and disruption meted upon our people by the inconsistency in messaging and failure to take the nation into confidence in the state of the grid”.
The ruling party also said it is “concerned that these acts may be the deliberate actions of some within Eskom for political ends”.
On social media the timing of the load shedding was widely questioned as a possible effort to sabotage the ANC at the polls.
Timing of load shedding ‘a deliberate decision’ says De Ruyter
Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter however stated in response to questions at the briefing that a deliberate decision was taken to proceed with load shedding prior to the elections in order to replenish emergency resources and thereby ensure readiness to deal with any unforeseen event affecting the grid during the casting and processing of votes.
In the meantime Professor Anton Eberhard, energy expert at the UCT Graduate School of Business, tweeted that 2021 has been the worst year ever regarding Eskom’s loadshedding.
He included this chart by CSIR principal researcher Jarred Wright:
Gordhan said he met the Eskom board and management during the course of Wednesday and during “intense discussions” the following recovery plan was arrived at:
- During the night of Wednesday October 27 about 2 000 megwatts (MW) of generation capacity was expected to return to service after which load shedding would be reduced to Stage 3;
- On Thursday October 28 “a few more 1 000s” would return and a further reduction to Stage 2 would follow;
- By the weekend load shedding is expected to stop;
- By Monday November 1, when voting takes place and in the following days when the votes will be counted, there will be no load shedding “unless unexpected events occur, which I’m assured by the board and management is unlikely,” Gordhan said.
He said Eskom and the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) are working together.
Of the 23 148 voting stations, some 16 000 are supplied with electricity from Eskom. The utility has divided them into clusters and each cluster has a number of generators and technicians on standby to ensure there will be power at voting stations.
Eskom has a total of 100 mobile generators ready to support voting stations, he said.
Gordhan stated that the national and provincial result centres as well as the 240 sites where results will be captured all have generators if needed.
The scanners used in the voting process will be pre-charged and have a battery life of 12 hours.
Gordhan apologised to political parties and South Africans for “the anxiety” caused by the intensive power cuts.
He said the Eskom board and management “have been instructed to take whatever steps necessary” to get extra skills they might need “and ensure the proper level of professional skill and engineering professionalism”.
This, Gordhan said, was necessary because human error plays a role in the breakdowns that cause load shedding.
He cited an incident where an Eskom employee ignored a warning light at one of the units at Kusile Power Station. This led to the unit tripping at a loss of more than 600MW to the system.
The employee was fired the next morning, Gordhan said.
Money from the fiscus
Gordhan further stated that National Treasury will be approached to give the necessary exemptions to enable Eskom to procure what is necessary to deal with load shedding.
Power station managers’ remuneration will be restructured into a basic and a variable amount to ensure that good performance is incentivised and that poor performance has consequences.
Gordhan said the electricity system “urgently needs more megawatts”.
“We have been talking about it for two years.”
He seemingly took a swipe at his cabinet colleague Gwede Mantashe, who, as minister of mineral resources and energy, is responsible for procurement of energy from the private sector.
“Parties who are responsible” for adding more generation capacity must see that it is speeded up “with a greater sense of urgency than shown so far”, he said.
He finally warned that “Eskom must not be seen as a political football.”
The focus must rather be on getting operations at Eskom right and stopping load shedding.
Listen to Fifi Peters’s interview with Phillip Dukashe, Eskom generation group chief executive (or read the transcript here):