Utility imports African power

Michael Georgy

Michael Georgy

What's the difference between the Titanic and South Africa? The Titanic sank with the lights on.

That was a joke on a radio station yesterday, the 14th day of the power cuts which have enraged the public, raised questions over future investment in Africa's biggest economy and increased scepticism in South Africa's leaders at a time of political uncertainty.

Economists estimate the cost of the outages already runs to hundreds of millions of rand, with small businesses especially vulnerable. And the power crunch has cast a shadow over South Africa's hosting of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.

State-owned electricity utility Eskom plans to spend R300billion to boost power capacity over the next five years. But customers are losing patience.

"Our leaders are just greedy and corrupt. I don't think anything will change," said Shanre Davids, salesman in a shop selling keys.

Business at the shop has halved because of the power cuts.

Underscoring the magnitude of the crisis, Eskom has begun importing electricity from Mozambique, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo - countries where blackouts have long been common.

The power problem began years ago, but Eskom's calls for urgent investment to meet the demands of the fast-growing economy after the end of apartheid fell on deaf ears.

But, Reinhard Cluse, a senior economist at UBS bank in London, said the government was serious about tackling power crisis.

"Overall it's a cost factor that manufacturers and any direct investor is taking into consideration. Reliable energy is an absolutely crucial problem that has been recognised," he said. - Reuters