Load shedding: This is an emergency - Gordhan

No one could have anticipated the return of load shedding four days ago, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has said, referring to the present state of Eskom as an "emergency".

The minister was briefing the portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday about the crisis at Eskom.

The committee heard that Eskom is technically insolvent. Facing R420bn debt, or 15% of the sovereign's debt, if Eskom defaults then it would have dire consequences for the SA economy.

When asked about the re-emergence of load shedding - this after he and the Eskom board assured the country in December that they were doing everything to keep the lights on - the minister admitted, "I thought in December we would get on top of it."

Gordhan also commented on reports that President Cyril Ramaphosa was shocked at load shedding, and said perhaps Ramaphosa was expressing his "despair".

"He was hoping we are getting on top of the issues, I was as well. Which is why I said what I said in December last year - that we are getting a better grip on what is going on … Then you have a surprise which happened the other day, those are mechanical things," he said.

The minister said he interrogated Eskom on the cause and learnt that there were technical issues that had to be addressed.

"What I would like to assure [is that] everything is being done to ensure we minimise load shedding," he said. Gordhan is hopeful that in the "next 10 days," they will have a better grip on technical issues.

He also hushed rumours of sabotage at the power stations. "There is not enough evidence to suggest there is [sabotage]. Let's look at issues [on a] technical level and solve technical problems," he said.

Following a meeting with the Eskom board on Monday, Gordhan said an agreement was reached to bring in international engineers to conduct a technical audit and determine what is wrong with the power stations and how to solve the problem.

When asked why SA is relying on foreign expertise, Gordhan said it should not be an issue whether expertise are foreign or not.

"We use whatever expertise we need in an emergency, this is an emergency. We need to understand sooner rather than later what's the problem. If we don’t understand the problem, we are not going to get anywhere near the solutions."

Gordhan could not say how long load shedding would last, but emphasised that every effort was being made to ensure "security of supply" happens sooner.

Eskom is implementing stage 3 load shedding from 08:00 to 23:00 on Wednesday. For the links to schedules click here.

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