Lukanyo Mnyanda Editor: Business Day
Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan brief the media. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan brief the media. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The government needs as much as two weeks before it will be in a position to say how long the power outages that have crippled large sections of the economy in recent days will last, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said.

About a dozen engineers, acting on a voluntary basis, have been sent to provide an “independent assessment” of what is going wrong at power plants, Gordhan said at a media conference in Rosebank on Tuesday. “We’ll come back in 10-14 days" to update the country once the investigations have been completed, he said.

Minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan briefed the media on Tuesday March 19 2019 on the daily load-shedding currently affecting South Africa. He attempted to assure everyone that Eskom was working hard to keep the lights on. Produced by: Deepa Kesa

Eskom, which supplies about 95% of SA’s energy, intensified power cuts at the weekend, and took the unprecedented step of implementing load-shedding through the night on Saturday as it grappled with unexpected boiler tube leaks at several coal-fired power stations, ongoing diesel shortages and the loss of electricity imports from Mozambique. 

Previous undertakings that load-shedding would end by April may not be met, meaning there is a real risk of the country going into elections in May in the midst of power cuts that have dismayed the public, and may be thrust into the centre of the campaign.

While SA is still in the dark about the future of Eskom's load-shedding crisis, the state-owned entity battles to maintain the power supply. Here's what you need to know about Eskom's cost to South Africans.

“At this point in time, we are still getting a better grasp of the problems” in power stations, Gordhan said. 

Years of mismanagement have left the power utility, which economists and ratings agencies have identified as the single-biggest risk to the country’s economy, with massive financial and operational challenges. It doesn’t generate enough income to cover the costs of servicing its R420bn debt.

Design faults and extensive delays in building new power plants at Medupi and Kusile, and a lack of planned maintenance at older plants, have left Eskom with insufficient generating capacity despite SA’s economic downturn that has pushed demand lower.

“We are confronted with a crisis,” Gordhan said.