South Africans have enjoyed uninterrupted supply of electricity for about a month, due to the year-end holiday season. This gave Eskom the opportunity to carry out maintenance work and somewhat recover its depleted diesel fuel supplies and water reserves for the pumped-storage schemes which use water to generate electricity.

However, even with that the Eskom continues to be strained due to an unpredictable ageing infrastructure. The power utility has a severe funding crisis, which could see it pressing regulatory authorities in the months ahead to allow for double-digit tariff hikes. A delay in the commissioning of the country’s two new power stations, Kusile and Medupi, has also stressed the power supply crisis.

“The power system remains vulnerable and we urge all South Africans to pull together over the next few months and use electricity sparingly at all times,” Eskom said earlier this week. The utility said it “continues to make progress with its programme of planned maintenance but the system remains tight”.

Eskom announced late last week that they were witnessing an increase in power demand, raising the risk of power cuts.

“There has been a high risk of load shedding since Tuesday night when the demand started to increase. We will do everything in our power to avoid it, that’s why we appeal to people to reduce their electricity usage to avoid having to declare load shedding,” said Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe.

On the labour front, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is worried about possible job losses in the metal sector and has blamed companies for the lack of contingency plans. “We are worried that some employers will use this crisis to retrench workers. The metal sector is one industry we are worried about,” said Numsa’s top negotiator Steve Nhlapho.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene says Eskom had to urgently resolve its problems because of the damage to the economy. Nene told the Business Report that the government was not able to help Eskom with day-to-day and operational issues, as it was best suited to deal with these itself.

“If Eskom says it’s only left with the money to sustain it, what does that mean? Does it mean it has not been generating profit through electricity sales? Eskom is in business, making and losing money,” he told the newspaper.

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