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Electricity cuts deep as South Africa approaches elections

On Monday South Africans go to the polls to vote in municipal elections, the mind concentrated by a new bout of power cuts by Eskom, the state electricity producer, because breakdowns at many of the country coal-fired power stations as well as maintenance at its nuclear power station led to a loss of almost 15,000 megaWatts from the grid earlier this week.

Eskom has explained that it was implementing stage 4 load-shedding now with a view of securing supply and capacity for election day when, it has assured government, there would be no electricity cuts.

Planned power outages at stage 4 level generally means two to three power cuts a day of officially 2.5 hours at a time. “If you’re working double shift, you can be without Eskom power for four to six hours over a 24-hour period,” explains a packhouse manager from a diversified group with packhouses across the country, every single one of which is experiencing power cuts throughout the day and night.

When asked if the recent Eskom power load-shedding had an impact on apple and pear packing at the Two-a-Day Group, managing director, Attie van Zyl replies: "Not at all, we have enough diesel and solar-generating capacity to run all operations. It does, however, come at a significant additional cost,” he adds.

The diesel price increased by 23c at the start of the month, rising by over R2 already this year, pushing up the cost of electricity generation.

Out in the fields or orchards it’s impossibly expensive to replace the electricity requirements of water pumps and irrigation equipment with generators, leaving irrigation and fertigation schedules vulnerable to power cuts.

Cellphone tower batteries run out of power when power cuts are prolonged, resulting in a loss of mobile connectivity.

Opposition parties are hoping that the electorate, fed up with scheduled load shedding as well as unplanned power cuts (often due to copper cable theft), will “cut the ANC’s power”, à la the campaign slogan of the official opposition party.

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