South Africa

ANALYSIS

Twelve days of no load shedding — a glint, a sliver of hope that SA’s big problems can be solved

Twelve days of no load shedding — a glint, a sliver of hope that SA’s big problems can be solved
(Illustrative image: Candle: Vecteezy | Lightbulb: Image by Starline / Freepik)

Monday was South Africa’s 12th consecutive day without load shedding. While this should not be seen as an achievement, it is worth examining the implications of a diminution and eventual end of load shedding. This comes as Deputy President Paul Mashatile has signalled that the government wants help from the private sector and civil society in sorting out our water problems.

So low are our expectations of Eskom that almost two weeks without load shedding seems like a big deal. Considering that a day without load shedding has twice been Eskom’s Christmas gift to the nation, this is not surprising. 

Of course, load shedding is not over. It is highly likely that there will be many, many more blackouts in the future.

It is also important to remember that while Eskom has been able to bring more units online, one of the reasons for the uninterrupted power supply is that the private sector and private households have been generating so much electricity for themselves (at least 4,000MW, almost 10% of SA’s total demand).

That said, this recent period of uninterrupted power is in line with certain expectations.

Just two weeks ago, the SA Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee said they expected the burden of load shedding to ease, and, “While we estimate electricity shortages took 1.5 percentage points off GDP last year, we think this will moderate to 0.6 percentage points this year and 0.2 percentage points in 2025.”

This suggests that we can realistically hope that load shedding will end over the next two years.

However, like so many problems, it is likely to end, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

This is because it would be a brave politician who announces the “end” of load shedding. It would take only one minor mistake, one bolt in the reactor, to suddenly bring it back.

Additionally, so many people now live without electricity from Eskom that they would not notice when load shedding ended.  

Consequences

What will change if load shedding is first reduced and then wheezes to an end?

The first consequence of a sustained reduction in load shedding would be its removal as a political issue. Considering that opposition parties have spent much time and effort, in their campaigns and in court, blaming the ANC for load shedding, this would be bad news for them. 

The ANC itself has said that load shedding just before the 2021 election hurt it badly, so this would surely be to its gain.

Then, along with the end of load shedding, would be the termination of one phase of the war on infrastructure.

One reason there are so many power outages in our major cities is that people steal cables and damage infrastructure such as substations.

Also, instituting load shedding damages electrical equipment and uses a huge amount of resources (in many cases, technicians still have to switch power off and on manually at different locations). So great is the burden on resources that even power utilities such as Joburg’s City Power are unable to keep to timetables once load shedding goes above Stage 5.

All of this effort and cost would no longer be needed, while infrastructure would be much safer.

Third, the great push which has seen so many people moving away from the natural economic networks that bind us together would lose momentum — the mass exodus from the national electrical grid would slow down.

There would be one other important lesson from this: big problems that affect the whole of our society and our economy can be fixed.

At present, so many of our problems appear insurmountable. Out of that sense of hopelessness comes frustration and the desire for radical, populist “solutions”. 

Problems with water

While it does appear that major progress is being made on the electricity front, the problems with water are increasing.

As with electricity, the government is looking for outside help to fix these problems.

At the weekend, the Sunday Times published an interview with Deputy President Paul Mashatile, in which he said the government would be open to help from civil society groups, and in particular AfriForum, to provide water.

On Monday, Mashatile’s political adviser and spokesperson, Keith Khoza, told SAfm that this invitation could be extended to the private sector too. In short, the message from the government appears to be that they are open to help from almost anyone to avoid a water crisis on a par with the electricity crisis.

Earlier this year, Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke told the African Mining Indaba that he believed it was likely that mining companies would sell treated water to councils.

All of this merges with the dynamic that has seen a bigger role for the private sector in helping to resolve many of South Africa’s problems.

Of course, providing water and providing electricity are very different technical matters. It is relatively easy to place solar panels on a home for the provision of onsite electricity (although it is not necessarily cheap…).

But water is a different matter. While some areas in KwaZulu-Natal have rainfall almost daily, most of South Africa does not receive enough regular rainfall for water tanks alone to supply its needs.

Water has to be provided through a network of thousands of kilometres of piping from a central source, which makes it difficult to see what immediate role the private sector could play.

That said, the real role of the private sector in the provision of electricity has not been in the network, but in generation.

And in the provision of fresh water, the technology is changing. Last week, Transnet announced it was going to invest R60-million in a solar-powered desalination plant in East London. 

There are already desalination plants in South Africa and more are on the way. The price of desalinated water is falling, and of course, the sun will provide most of the power.

This is surely one way the private sector can get involved in the provision of water. It can invest in desalination plants and then sell the water back to a council or a water authority.

This would have some resonances with the role of independent power producers in the provision of electricity.

However, it is hard to see how there could ever be competition of the sort envisaged in the electricity supply market.

The real problem is that councils have to play a role in providing water, and those councils are often badly mismanaged — an issue that could be insurmountable.

It is way too soon to say load shedding is over. But it is also important to realise that solutions can be found to our problems. And, despite everything, the solutions can be implemented — with the right management, and cooperation with a skilled, experienced and motivated private sector. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • JOHANN SCHOLTZ says:

    My crystal ball tells me the next few weeks will see very little loadshedding, only to return in full force after the elections. ANC buying votes by burning through diesel, all funded by the tax payer.

  • P S says:

    Where is the actual journalism in this article. It’s an opinion piece. The same happened before the last election. Less load shedding suddenly to pretend that things will get better under anc reighn

    • drew barrimore says:

      Indeed. This kind of writing on a par with Rainbow Nation Tooth Fairy stuff. The same people who wrote about Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’ and then have to retract years later because they’ve been bamboozled. They don’t have the capacity to bring any insight into their comments because they are lazy and unthinking. The fact is SA is a dead, stagnant economy that needs less and less electricity to continue its spectacular non-functioning. So yay no load-shedding.

    • Brian Cotter says:

      Let the wind drop, rain on the coal in Emalahleni, cloudy days throughout the country and we will be back in business.

    • Bob Dubery says:

      The then sports editor of the Sunday Times once explained to me that newspapers carry 3 types of article, and should distinguish between those
      1) Reportage: This just happened
      2) Analysis: Somebody writing about the implications of what just happened.
      3) Opinion: What somebody thinks (and not necessarily about anything that just happened).

      I think this piece fits into (2) and is indicated as such.

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      “Where is the actual journalism in this article.”
      You did notice at the top it said analysis, not editorial, didn’t you?

  • Bruce Danckwerts says:

    Public service provision will not be fixed (be it power, water, transport, roads or communications) until the boards governing those services are elected by the stakeholders and until they are legally required to post monthly statements of income and expenditure. State owned utilities (as practiced in South Africa) went out of favour in Europe and the U.S. in the 1970s, to be replaced with the panacea of privately owned companies. They have also failed to deliver. The late Elinor Ostrom researched what she called Common Pool Resources and came up with 8 principles, that if applied, would result in a shared resource (such as a grid or a water utility) that would be both sustainable and fit for purpose. She died before the Internet really got going, but she would certainly advocate the use of the Internet as a means of delivering the all important transparency – annual accounts don’t cut it because the data is far too late and can be massaged by the auditors to tell any story the directors want (as happened with Enron). Bruce Danckwerts, CHOMA, Zambia

  • roger johnson says:

    A glint? Rather, a glimmer?
    A glint is an actual reflection of light off an object whereas glimmer is an abstract attribute of an idea or hope
    Perhaps not the sort of comment DM looks for and who am I to correct Stephen Grootes anyway?

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    Anyone who imagines that ‘loadshedding’ is a thing of the past must be smoking some good weed – as soon as the last vote has been counted, the maintenance department will HAVE to carry out long overdue work to overstressed machines. Remember that most generating plant in South Africa is over 50 years old – and maintenance has been neglected for the last 30 years.

    • Bob Dubery says:

      Quoting from the article by Grootes: “load shedding is not over. It is highly likely that there will be many, many more blackouts in the future.”

      Maybe you need to check what’s in your rollups.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Grootes, representing the ANC it seems

  • Bob Dubery says:

    The recent halt on load shedding actually co-incided with a period of low production for solar in Gauteng. Make of that what you will. I would imagine solar in the WC has also not been too good the last couple of days.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    All this is is a glint of an election coming …like the proverbial train.

    …please rewrite this piece 3 months after the election as that will be the true acid test.

    In the meantime – consider voting DA, as the probability of your being able to write happy electricity articles will be a lot higher over time.

  • Con Tester says:

    This is pure, confected, delusional BS. The ANC is in high gear election mode, and will say and do literally *anything* to appear publicly effective and competent, including running the OCGTs into the ground and burning tons of diesel. On that note, what’s the plan once the OCGTs start failing, as they surely will from filling a role for which they were never designed?!

    On a related note, can DM journos please stop kowtowing to the ANC’s euphemistic jargon, which is designed to soft-pedal their abysmal ineptitude and execrable crookedness, and start following eNCA’s example by ditching “load shedding” and consistently call it what its, namely “rolling power blackouts”? Doing so would be both enormously more factual and much more decently honest.

    Thanks.

  • Confucious Says says:

    A day without load shedding is another day without maintenance! It will come back to bite all of us because its 12 days without maintenance now!

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    It seems to me that the Eskom powers-that-be have convinced the “suspected drivers of criminality” who have been engaged with Eskom negatively that it is in their interest(s) to stop “undoing Eskom” until the election is over. Candidates in the elections want power (electrical of course!) so to attract voter-fodder they need to quieten the Eskom ravage for at least a short while.
    This idea I have heard expressed amongst a Big-Wig group rep very recently. It has merit for agreeability. In this a reason can be seen as to why Eskom has produced unbroken “igas” for 12 consecutive days!

  • Tommy Click says:

    Stage 6 load shedding will resume immediately after the elections.

  • Richard Blake says:

    Eskom is burning diesel, and once the elections are over load shedding will return like clockwork.

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