Blackouts artificially created

Shaheed Mahomed

Shaheed Mahomed

Eskom is spearheading an attack on the working class in South Africa by artificially created blackouts.

Last year it cost Eskom 16c per kilowatt hour (KWh) to produce electricity. It charged industry only 16c per KWh, while the general public has to pay an average of 44 cents per KWh. Large customers of Eskom like BHP Billiton pay even less, about 12 cents per KWh. This means that the working and lower middle classes are subsidising the electricity cost of big capital. Residential use of electricity is only 19percent, while industry uses about 80percent. But in terms of cost, residential users pay 43percent, while industry pays only 57percent. In the past year BHP Billiton made a profit of R6 billion.

The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) saw fit to only have one hearing over electricity increases. The exclusion of the vast majority of the people demonstrates that Nersa has taken a stand to implement the proposed increases or a substantial part of it.

The acquiescence of Nersa to allow Eskom to not reveal the real rate that industry and major clients pay allows Eskom to use percentages to portray a false impression that their proposal considers the poor in any meaningful way. What Eskom calls the homelite clients are the poorest of the poor.

The ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance summit proposals entrench the subsidy of big capital. A yearlyl increase in the electricity tariff of 20percent for five years means that the homelite user will be expected to pay 126c per unit, while big capital will only pay less than 30c.

The Energy Information Administration website of the US government puts the SA electricity capacity at 44700 megawatts in 2001, with it decreasing to 40500 MW in the following year. The source of the information is Stats SA. Thus there is sufficient electricity capacity in the country, especially in the light of the programme to de-mothball 3500MW capacity within the next 18 months.

Eskom ran down its coal reserves from 61 days to 2-3 days. Their mismanagement should not be placed on the shoulders of the residential users.

Using older solar technology, a 70km by 70km area in the Northern Cape desert could provide enough power in South Africa. The recent breakthrough by a researcher at the University of Johannesburg to produce solar power at 50percent of the current cost shows the possibility for solar power.

The electricity subsidy for big capital should be ended. A block step tariff could be implemented (the more you use, the more you pay), with the increase in free electricity provision to at least 100 units per person per household per month.

lShaheed Mahomed is general secretary of The Workers International Vanguard League