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Power blackouts continue in South Africa amid escalating COVID-19 pandemic


A shopkeeper waits for customers in his candlelit fast food store during a load shedding electricity blackout in Cape Town. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Massive rolling power blackouts continued in South Africa on Sunday for three days running, dealing another heavy blow to the economy already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The severely constrained generation system will most likely persist through the coming week, said state-run electricity utility Eskom, which provides about 95 percent of the electricity consumed in the country.

Rolling blackouts, or load shedding, were a necessary step to replenish the emergency generation reserves to better prepare for the coming week, said Eskom.

Due to the much colder weather, demand for electricity has also risen significantly, requesting the public to help reduce electricity usage in order to lessen the impact of load shedding, said Eskom.

The latest load shedding resulted from the dysfunctioning of several generation units, which removed more than 2,600 MW of capacity from the system, according to the utility.

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South Africans had been spared of load shedding for the past four months, after being constantly subjected to rolling blackouts in the past few years.

The latest spate of load shedding has led to public outrage as the country was grapping with the COVID-19 pandemic which has infected 264,184 people and claimed the lives of 3,971 others as of Saturday.

Not only will the economic sectors, especially small businesses, have to contend with the COVID-19 lockdown, they will now also have to weather the storm of the rolling blackouts, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said.

Just as businesses begin to pick up the pieces after the disastrous economic lockdown, they have been dealt yet another blow, said Ghaleb Cachalia, DA Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises.

To break the electricity monopoly by Eskom, the DA has proposed a plan to split the utility into two entities, the generation and distribution, as a pathway to a partial or full privatization of the parastatal, and to bring independent power producers on board.

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“Electricity is central to ensuring people’s livelihoods are secured. It is clear that while South Africans can afford electricity, they cannot afford Eskom,” Cachalia said.

Eskom says it implements load shedding as the last resort to prevent the national grid from a total collapse.

Due to poor management and alleged corruption, Eskom, the world’s fourth largest coal-burning power plant, has been struggling to meet the growing demand for electricity.

South Africa has suffered from electricity insufficiency for more than a decade, with power blackouts having become increasingly frequent in recent years.

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