South African state power company Eskom had warned early on Friday that electricity cuts could intensify following labour protests at nine of its facilities linked to deadlocked wage talks.
Following through on its warning, the power later announced that Stage 4 load shedding would be implemented from 11:00 until midnight on Friday, and from 05:00 until midnight on Saturday and Sunday, to conserve emergency generation reserves due to the “ongoing unprotected labour action”.
The utility, which has struggled to meet power demand in Africa’s most industrialised nation for over a decade, has been implementing rotational outages since the start of the week.
Eskom said the protests included incidents of intimidation of working employees and blockading of roads leading to power stations.
In its Stage 4 power cut statement, Eskom said: “While exploring possible solutions to unlock the deadlock with the unions, Eskom appeals to its labour partners and striking employees to embrace the higher purpose of putting the people of South Africa first, respect the law and to desist from illegal and undemocratic conduct.”
“However, Eskom cautions the public that as the shortage of generation capacity persists, the system will continue to be constrained with an elevated risk of load shedding over the coming weeks.”
Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said on Thursday that groups of people, some wearing union outfits, were protesting outside six coal plants and the company said police had been deployed.
The negotiations with trade unions including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa broke down on Tuesday.
Eskom said on Friday that over the past 24 hours there had been protests at nine of its power stations and other operating facilities, by some of its employees who had embarked on unprotected strike action.
The loss-making utility, saddled with a huge debt pile approaching R400 billion, is trying to contain costs as part of turnaround efforts under Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter.
Reforming Eskom is a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, but efforts to improve power plant performance are yet to bear fruit.
Eskom has a total nominal capacity of 46 000 MW, but earlier this week more than a third of that capacity was offline due to breakdowns and planned maintenance. It said on Friday it has 2 766MW on planned maintenance, while another 17 395MW of capacity is unavailable due to breakdowns.