Power Outages Across South Africa

Since we’ve been in Johannesburg, I’ve noticed quite often how many of the city’s traffic lights aren’t working, yet no one seems to be concerned of the potential traffic dangers while driving. This observation sparked interest for me, so I began researching South Africa’s rolling blackouts and the effects that they’ve had on its economy.

According to Bloomberg.com, the 2014 blackouts hadn’t been this bad since 2008. Eskom Holdings SOC, Ltd. scheduled blackouts due to rain storms that “disrupted the state-run utility’s supply of coal [that is] burned to generate more than 80 percent of power.” Eskom supplies 95% of power to South Africa, and spent 500 billion R ($46.7 billion) last year to “replace aging equipment and add plants to avoid a repeat of blackouts that affected homes, mines and factories for five days in January 2008.”

Now, less than a year later, the country is still feeling the effects of these rolling power outages. Eskom took to Twitter this month to explain that continued outages are simply a product of basic economics: supply and demand. In other words, the demand of power exceeds the supply (South Africa Press Association, 2015). Further, Eskom released “Stage 1″ of these blackouts, which chooses regions that must adhere to voluntarily shutting off their power.

Further, these scheduled blackouts are hurting South Africa’s economy, according to The Economist. According to the magazine, “The power cuts are hurting an already stagnant economy, estimated to have expanded by just 1.4% in 2014. Both big industry and small businesses are feeling the pinch.” It is unclear for how my longer these blackouts may occur, but they could drag on for months, or even years, as Eskom struggles with a “maintenance backlog and a barrage of technical problems at its aging power stations.” In the same article, The Economist notes that South African President Jacob Zuma blames the lasting effects of Apartheid as the cause of South Africa’s electricity issues, arguing that electricity and power were routed to white homes; he has turned a supply and demand issue into a racial argument. However, the Democratic Alliance claims that the the blackouts are a direct result of Eskom’s poor maintenance and lack of quality control (SAPA, 2014).

Either way, South Africa is facing a major problem regarding power usage and supply. It will be interesting to see how these rolling blackouts proceed over the next few months and how the South African people continue to react.

South African Press Association. (2014). Rolling blackouts across South Africa. IOL news. Retrieved from

South African Press Association. (2015). South Africa: Eskom Announces Rolling Blackouts. All Africa. Retrieved from http://allafrica.com/stories/201501091340.html

The Economist. (2015). Rolling power cuts are fraying tempers. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21637396-rolling-power-cuts-are-fraying-tempers-unplugged

Visser, J. & Burkhardt, P. (2014). Eskom Starts First South African Blackouts Since 2008. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-06/eskom-says-south-africa-may-face-power-blackouts-on-wet-coal.html

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