Amongst them, voters will be considering the corruption which snaked through the political landscape for years under now-ousted President Jacob Zuma. One knock-on effect felt by the population as a whole is the condition of the state-owned electricity supplier, Eskom, supplying some 95 percent of South Africa’s power. In recent years, it has fallen into desperate disrepair, leaving South Africans across the country quite literally in the dark.
At least one-third of Eskom’s power stations are broken or shut for maintenance, resulting in ‘load shedding’ across the country – planned blackouts on a schedule to spread out electricity demand and prevent the entire grid going into shut down.
The severity of the load shedding depends on the demand, and blackouts are rolled out in stages which range from stage one, the least severe, to stage four, the worst, which sees customers without power for 12 times over an eight-day period in two or four hour blocks.
Eskom is keen to point out that, without load shedding, a complete blackout is inevitable, which could take the entire system off the grid for weeks.
In a statement, the supplier said: “A country-wide blackout has serious consequences, which can occur when there is too much demand and too little supply, bringing the power system into an imbalance – tripping the power system in its entirety.
“[We would need to] energise one power plant at a time and one section of the country at a time. It could take up to two weeks to restore full power, which would have a severe impact on our country.
“This is why we use load shedding, or load reduction, to effectively manage our power system and assist in protecting it from such an event.”
But while the supplier is keen to downplay the severity of the situation, the fact remains there is no clear way to permanently fix the situation without massive economic overhaul.
Speaking at an electricity summit in Cape Town last month, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said: “We have a crisis.
“It is anything but under control, and the most important thing that we have to do is convey honest information to people about where we stand.”
South Africans have enjoyed a brief reprieve from load shedding in the run-up to the general election, as acting president Cyril Ramaphosa works to prove he has what it takes to get the country back to its promised glory during the Nelson Mandela years.
A veteran South African political journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke to Express.co.uk about the deepening crisis and the upcoming election.
He said: “Eskom was decimated by corruption during the Zuma years.
“Eskom is seen by many as a metaphor for the government’s failures and may persuade some voters to turn their backs on the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC).
“President Ramaphosa has been at pains to reassure South Africans that Eskom’s troubles are being addressed – a high-powered task team is working on the issue – and there have been no blackouts for several weeks.”
On Easter Friday, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni granted Eskom an emergency bailout in order to meet salary demands and diesel costs, which opposition parties declared a political tactic ahead of the upcoming election.
But as Eskom continues living hand-to-mouth, the country has been warned there is a “high risk” of stage one load shedding in the coming weeks, and with South Africa heading into winter, this is not welcome news.
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