Employees of Koi Restaurant, on Fredman Drive in Sandton, Johannesburg, work in the dark during power cuts in this January 2008 file photo. Picture: THE TIMES
Employees of Koi Restaurant, on Fredman Drive in Sandton, Johannesburg, work in the dark during power cuts in this January 2008 file photo. Picture: THE TIMES

Eskom started load shedding for the first time in years on Thursday night due to constraints to supply as a result of industrial action.

The utility activated stage one of the load-shedding exercise, implying there was a demand to save up to 1,000MW of electricity in order to prevent the national grid from total collapse.

“Eskom calls on all consumers to assist by reducing their electricity consumption to reduce the risk of load shedding by switching off geysers, heating, pool pumps and all nonessential appliances tonight from 5pm to 8pm,” the utility said. Power outages were experienced in different cities across the country.

City Power, which supplies electricity to Johannesburg, also issued warnings, saying it may have to activate stage two load shedding to save 2,000MW.

By Thursday night it was not clear whether industrialists and mining companies that use bulk electricity had also been told to reduce consumption.

Business Day understands industry was closely monitoring the developments.

This as organised labour at the power utility prepares to meet with its board “soon” over failed wage negotiations.

National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) president Andrew Chirwa told Business Day the board had welcomed their request for a meeting to try and unlock the impasse that has led to disruptions at various power stations.

This week, Numsa and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said a direct engagement with the board was necessary because that was where the Eskom management got its mandate of a 0% wage increase offer, which angered workers.

Chirwa was speaking on the sidelines of Thursday’s once-off lunch-time picket at the heavily guarded entrance of Eskom’s head office in Johannesburg.

Sabotage

A date for the meeting had not been set yet, he said.

Hundreds of workers affiliated to Numsa and NUM demonstrated their unhappiness with the firm’s 0% wage increase offer, demanding instead a 15% wage increase as they jeered and threw water bottles at Eskom CE Phakamani Hadebe while he addressed the crowd.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the utility and its board was willing to continue engagements with unions. He said generation and distribution of electricity across Eskom’s network was constrained on Thursday due to “acts of sabotage and intimidation” related to the labour unrest.

Electricity infrastructure was damaged, while all road coal deliveries to power stations were halted for security reasons, Eskom said. “The power system might become severely constrained … because we are not operating on full capacity. We cannot make any guarantees that the system will continue to operate efficiently because people are being intimidated and we have evidence of acts of sabotage.”

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Thursday he would discuss the resumption of the wage negotiations with the Eskom board.

Gordhan’s statement also contradicted Cosatu’s utterances on Wednesday that, during a meeting with the union federation, the minister had committed to ensuring Eskom moved on its 0% wage offer.

“It is the responsibility of the board to determine what kind of wage increase Eskom can offer its employees, within the framework of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities. The minister is in no position to instruct the board on this issue,” the statement read.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za

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