Thursday, 17 January 2008

Power cuts enrage South Africans

Jan 16 2008 09:18 PM

Johannesburg - Power cuts are endangering motorists at traffic
intersections, inflicting heavy losses on businesses and infuriating
South Africans already disillusioned by leaders embroiled in
corruption cases.

State-owned utility Eskom is planning to spend R300bn to boost
power capacity in the continent's biggest economy over the next
five years but South Africans plagued by rolling blackouts are losing

The country's electricity reserves have been eroded by several
years of strong economic growth, a doubling of users and delayed
construction of power plants. Power cuts rippled across South Africa
a year ago, blacking out parts of major cities.

South Africa's power woes have raised political temperatures in the
past, with critics accusing the government of failing to address the
energy crunch plaguing Africa's biggest economy as it gears up to
host the soccer World Cup in 2010.

Economist Mike Schussler says South Africa has paid a heavy price
because of the outages. "We already think it's in the hundreds of
millions of rand," he said.

Eskom has now imposed new cuts, which have also affected the
crucial mining industry.

Eskom's spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
But the outages were a hot topic on a radio talk show which asked
callers if South Africa had become a banana republic.

Bianca Uys, 33, is troubled in many ways. The manager of a pizza
restaurant has watched profits drop by about 50%. Driving home
alone at night can be dangerous for women during the best of times
- South Africa suffers from one of the world's worst rates of violent
crime, including rape.

Traffic intersections, known as robots, are pitch dark at night, with
no signals to guide helpless motorists. "It's not safe for a woman. I
get stuck at the robot," she said.

Frustrations were already widespread before the lights went off.

South Africans have just learned that prosecutors will charge their
national police chief, Jackie Selebi, with corruption, fraud, money
laundering and racketeering. Selebi has been given an extended
leave of absence.

Jacob Zuma, newly elected leader of the ruling African National
Congress, will go on trial in August on charges of corruption, fraud,
money laundering and racketeering.

"The general feeling is very negative. It's a cocktail of coverups
among leaders," Zaid Surtee, who owns an ice cream shop at the
posh Sandton City mall, told Reuters.

Every time his staff opens up the glass case covering fancy flavours
on offer, the ice cream goes soft and there is no chance of recovery
because of the cuts. "This is ridiculous. Nobody has any idea if
Eskom is doing anything about this."

Markets have factored in the allegations hovering around Zuma and
Selebi, as well as the power problems, said Esther Law, emerging
market strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland in London. "They are
adding to negative sentiment," she told Reuters.

The world's biggest miner BHP Billiton - South Africa's single largest
power consumer - said the cuts have hit its three massive
aluminium smelters.

"It does affect our production, but we normally don't disclose the
impact," BHP spokesperson Bronwyn Wilkinson said.

"All three of our smelters have been affected this week on a daily
basis, and they have been affected frequently since load shedding
began late last year."

Jewellry store owner Mohammed Ravat was more forthcoming
about his losses as his employees strained to work through
receipts under poor lighting.

"We can't go on like this. You need to look into the diamond clearly,
to show the customers," he said.

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