At 06:00 on Thursday this week Eskom announced a power emergency caused by heavy rains which, they claim, wet its coal stocks. It would be difficult to imagine any country in the world coming up with such an excuse for announcing a power emergency and resorting to power cuts countrywide.
What confounds consumers in general is that it has happened in South Africa, purportedly the most advanced and industrialised country on the continent. Not even Zimbabwe, where power cuts have been a way of life for many years, have they had the audacity to blame seasonal weather for their gross mismanagement of such a critical ingredient to everday life.
But Eskom, the giant parastatal with an infrastructural price tag of R340million and a programme to expand electricity supply to remote rural areas, throws in the towel because “the coal is wet”.
The United Kingdom has experienced it wettest winter on record with widespread flooding and yet there have been no reports of power cuts because “the coal is wet”. The United States has been experiencing Arctic weather for months with huge snow falls and yet no reports of the “coal is wet”.
Why Eskom would declare an emergency and immediate cuts is beyond comprehension and leads to speculation as to what really is going on in the corridors of power.
When coal is mined it is washed before use and, as far as we are aware, there is no drying process before it is introduced the the power stations where it is used to create steam to power the turbines. Though the rain this season has been above average it is not unusual which makes this excuse a first. Not that we should expect any sensible explanation from the Ministry.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, dismissed the cuts as “a temporary setback” with no effect on the economy. Furthermore, the Minister told journalists outside Parliament on Thursday that Eskom had assured government there was “adequate energy in the electricity grid”. Oh, really?
But the Minister did assure that the “matter” would be taken back to try to curb the problem and “mitigate even before we are destabilised by the wet weather”.
Well, that is a blessing. Meanwhile, South Africa, get out the candles.