Power meltdown

2008-01-17 00:00

Unexpected electricity outages because of poor infrastructure or inadequate municipal maintenance are now being supplemented by regular load-shedding programmed by Eskom itself as the only way of coping with the yawning gap between supply and demand. The sober reality is that this is to continue, in the country as a whole, for at least another six years, for only then will Eskom have been able to complete sufficient new power stations to handle the increased demand.

The one positive element in this scenario is the expansion of electrical services to many who were unjustly deprived of them before the advent of the new democracy in 1994. In addition, the economy has been growing faster than ever before with commerce and industry making large demands on electrical supply. These developments have been accompanied by an extraordinary lack of foresight on the part of government. Eskom is a state-funded entity and President Thabo Mbeki admitted recently that his government had erred in not agreeing to Eskom’s requests for further major funding. In a well-established democracy such neglect could be enough to bring a government down or at least cause the resignation of the relevant minister. That does not happen here.

The degree to which electricity load shedding impedes upon public and private enterprise is massive. Businesses are having to make alternative plans in order to survive and to prosper. Large additional expense is involved in the purchase and operation of generators.

State institutions, such as hospitals, are in a similar position and only the most essential services can be covered. What happens to the educational system when generators cannot be afforded by schools? Traffic snarl-ups become routine occurrences, especially at intersections, when traffic lights are not working.

The consequences of this meltdown are almost endless and they are a disturbing sign of a society, so vibrant in some respects, slipping into a lifestyle little short of chaotic.

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