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S.Africa’s Eskom carries out biggest power cuts in years
February 12, 2019
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JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s Eskom implemented the most severe power cuts in several years on Monday after six additional generating units unexpectedly went offline, underscoring the challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa faces to fix the struggling state-owned utility.

Ramaphosa is trying to reform cash-strapped Eskom, which supplies more than 90 per cent of the power in Africa’s most industrialised economy but is drowning in $31 billion of debt, to lift economic growth before a parliamentary election in May.

The rand fell to its weakest in almost three weeks, and Eskom’s dollar-denominated 2028 bond suffered its steepest daily fall in more than two months, as investors fretted about the economic impact of the power cuts.

Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said the company would cut 4,000 megawatts from the national grid from 1100 GMT on Monday, likely until 2000 GMT, and that the last time Eskom slashed so much power was in the 2014/15 financial year.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was meeting Eskom executives about the crisis, Phasiwe added, without elaborating.

Ramaphosa, who announced a plan last week to split Eskom into three separate entities in an effort to make it more efficient, said on Twitter the prospect of further power cuts was “most worrying”.

“That comes as quite a shock. It is reported that there are six units that are down - that is most worrying, most disturbing,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s plan to split Eskom faces opposition from powerful labour unions and within his ruling African National Congress party, while some analysts have said a bolder approach was needed.

Ratings agency Moody’s said on Monday that an “unbundling” of Eskom into different units for generation, transmission and distribution would pave the way for greater transparency but do little to solve the firm’s financial difficulties.

“While this is a bold step, it probably won’t be enough. Splitting it in three doesn’t fix the issue that Eskom is in a very dire financial situation,” said Trieu Pham, emerging market sovereign debt strategist at Dutch bank ING.

Eskom was also forced to cut power for a sustained period in late November and early December, also due to a shortage of generating capacity.


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