Estimated read time 3 min read

By Samkele Mchunu

Load shedding, often known as the energy crisis in South Africa, is a prolonged period of widespread nationwide power outages. It started in the latter half of 2007—close to the conclusion of President Thabo Mbeki’s second term—and is still going on today.

The main power generator and national power company in South Africa, controlled by the government, Eskom, along with a number of legislators, blamed the rolling blackouts on inadequate generation capacity.

Eskom and government representatives claim that building more power plants and generators is necessary to find a solution. This doesn’t explain why Eskom’s available generation capacity decreased from over 37 GW in 1994 to less than 28 GW in 2024, despite the addition of two significant power plants to the grid during that time, or why the company’s financial situation worsened from R2.3 bn in net profit in 1994 to R423 bn in debt in 2023, according to Eskom’s own statistics.

Numerous acts of sabotage, corruption within the ruling party, and the actions of criminal syndicates within Eskom with purported political ties have all contributed to the ongoing power supply issues. These issues have also been made worse by Eskom’s mismanagement and corruption, particularly during the Jacob Zuma administration. Many South Africans believe that the current energy crisis is just one more sign of the country’s chronically poor governance.

Analysts and officials from Eskom and the South African government forecast in a report from December 1998 that unless steps were done to stop it, Eskom would run out of electrical power reserves by 2007. The 1998 report suggested dividing Eskom into several companies for the production and transmission of electricity in order to increase power supply and reliability. The national government did little in response to Eskom’s requests for permission to expand capacity and the 1998 report’s concerns.

The Mbeki administration was at the time debating whether to privatize Eskom, which was given as the explanation for their inaction. As a result, starting in 2002, Eskom was unable to increase its generating capacity and meet the growing national demand for power. Only in 2004 did the government give Eskom authorization to increase electricity production by a significant 70%.

Between 1961 and 1996, 16 power plants were put into service, adding 35,804 MW of additional capacity. Just 9,564 MW of new capacity have been added in the twenty-first century from the power plants Medupi and Kusile, which are now under construction. Numerous Eskom power plants are approximately 50 years old and on the verge of being decommissioned. In order to increase electricity output by 25% after the first load shedding phase in 2007–2008, Eskom put the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations into service. While the current fleet of power plants was not replaced and continued to function into its operational lives, the building of these plants suffered several technical issues and cost overruns.

In this country, blackouts are becoming an unavoidable reality. However, the government’s answer is frightening people all across the country. This is the reason. Citing serious environmental and financial concerns, South African environmentalists and rights campaigners are impeding the government’s plans to grant a long-term emergency power supply contract to a local affiliate of a Turkish gas-to-electricity company.

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