South Africa in 'National State of Disaster' following collapse of power grid

President Ramaphosa said, "it is more than a disruption, it is a threat to the progress of our country and the development of its people."

Joshua Young North Carolina

On Thursday, South Africa declared a National State of Disaster as the country's power grid continues to collapse despite scheduled power outages lasting up to 12 hours by the state run power company Eskom, which supplies 90 percent of the entire country's power.

According to a statement from the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, "Considering the magnitude, severity, and progression of the severe electricity supply constraint."

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) declared the "national state of disaster to prevent the possible progression to a total blackout from occurring and taking into account the possibility to augment existing measures already undertaken by the organs of state to deal with electricity supply constraint."

According to NPR, "South Africa's power crisis is crippling one of Africa's biggest economies and threatening the reelection prospects of the ruling party: the African National Congress."

In order to prevent the collapse of the country's power grid, Eskom has scheduled load sheddings that last up to 12 hours a day. In South Africa the scheduled power outages have been going on for 16 years and, according to NPR, President Cyril Ramaphosa and "the ruling African National Congress Party has done very little to prevent its imminent collapse."

Small businesses make up one third of South Africa's gross domestic product. Eskom has relied up to 80 percent on coal to power their grids but maintenance and updating of the country's coal facilities has lagged over several decades. Several power plants have broken down from being overused from demand by the continent's most industrialized economy and its need for energy.

Al Jazeera reports Eskom also holds 400 billion rands in debt, or roughly $22.6 billion. Further, South Africa's debt as a country rests at $130 billion and half its population is unemployed.

In 2022, the World Bank gave South Africa $497 million to decommission its largest coal power plant and "convert it to a renewable energy source."

President Ramaphosa was originally scheduled to appear at this year's World Economic Forum but canceled to deal with the country's energy crisis. "Load shedding is more than an inconvenience, it is more than a disruption, it is a threat to the progress of our country and the development of its people," he said. 

Ramaphosa has a scheduled state of the nation address on Thursday and "South Africans say they are hoping the address will have concrete solutions as neither the government nor the Eskom leadership has done so," reports Al Jazeera.

Another business owner originally from Zimbabwe, Prisca Horonga, said, "You have to wait until the power returns … we cannot afford a generator, so we lose clients all the time."

Horonga runs Corner Cafe in Cape Town where the load sheddings last roughly 10 hours a day. 

Beautician Nadine Iqani said, "I am making a third of the income pre-the load shedding times, and I have clients shouting at me."

"It is just a nightmare … working long hours, including weekends, to accommodate clients," Iqani said.

NPR reporter Mpho Lakaje spoke with a small business owner, Mohato Mokoka, in a township of Johannesburg called Soweto. Mokoka's ice production business was failing due to scheduled outages, known as load shedding.

"We're sitting at a production rate now of about 10- to 15 percent from your 100 percent production," Mokoka said. 


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