Not even an hour after Electricity Minister Kgosientsho ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa told journalists and their audiences on Sunday (11 February) that Stage 6 load shedding is expected to continue until Wednesday (14 February), Eskom announced that it would switch to Stage 5 from 12:00 “until further notice”.
While even the smallest amount of load shedding reprieve is welcome, this underlines the unpredictability of Eskom’s load shedding roller coaster that has seen South Africans battling to keep up with ever-changing messages from the utility as they try to mitigate the impact of Eskom’s generation deficit on their lives and livelihoods.
During Stage 6 load shedding, South Africans are without electricity for up to 10 hours per day.
In what has been described as an embarrassment for President Cyril Ramaphosa, Eskom announced a move from the prevailing Stage 2 load shedding shortly after the end of his State of the National Address (Sona) address on Thursday night.
Watch the address or read the full speech here.
In the address, Ramaphosa assured South Africans that “the worst is behind us and the end of load shedding is finally within reach.”
That same night Eskom increased load shedding to Stage 4, and shortly after midnight further intensified it to Stage 6 – which led to many South Africans questioning Ramaphosa’s assurances.
Both leaders saying ‘the same thing’
Ramokgopa, however, stated on Sunday that “there is nothing new” in what Ramaphosa said during his Sona.
He said as electricity minister he has often stated that the country has turned the load shedding corner and there is no difference between that and what the president said during his address.
He said Eskom has outperformed its own summer forecast and one should look at the energy availability in terms of the trend, compared to the baseline in May 2023, shortly after his appointment in March.
According to Ramokgopa, Eskom has taken a calculated risk by increasing the amount of generation capacity taken offline for maintenance because the buffer of available generation capacity has decreased, and any unexpected setback may result in increased load shedding.
Thanks to the additional funds made available by government, Eskom is however in a position to do more maintenance.
It wants to “do the right thing” and avoid cutting corners to achieve the long-term gain of improved plant performance, he said.
What happened on Thursday night when one unit after the other tripped or was taken offline is that this risk materialised, he said. This will happen from time to time, but the impact will gradually be reduced, according to Ramokgopa.
Stage 6 load shedding remains an outlier that will occur from time to time, but the norm will not be higher than Stage 4.
Ramokgopa also mentioned that the contribution from renewable energy sources was lower than forecast due to longer than expected hours of cloud cover, while demand also exceeded the forecast.
Neither Ramokgopa nor Eskom head of generation Bheki Nxumalo could provide any information to substantiate the assertion made by ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula on the social media platform X that the sudden collapse in Eskom’s generation capacity was due to sabotage.
Nxumalo further denied that the timing of Eskom’s announcements on Thursday night about the intensifying load shedding was in any way delayed to give Ramaphosa the opportunity to deliver his Sona first.
Several generating units are expected to return to service on 13 and 14 February, which should bring further load shedding relief.