Cape Town — The Minister of Minerals and Energy called for a partnership between the people of South Africa and the government, as well as the opposition parties, to manage the current electricity crisis being experienced by the country.
At the same time, she appealed for understanding.
South Africa is part of the global village and as such is not alone in experiencing economic growing pains similar to those being experienced in India and China, where economic growth has been straining energy supplies, said Minster Buyelwa Sonjica.
Addressing both houses of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, the minister said South Africa's "unprecedented and unanticipated" economic growth was largely behind the current energy crisis being experienced by South Africa.
When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, the new government inherited an economy in decline where three power stations providing over 3 000 megawatts of electricity were mothballed due to lack of demand.
Economic growth over the past few years, as well as the extension of electricity services to as many as 3.5 million more South Africans because of government's roll-out of services to people who were previously denied them, are largely responsible for the current shortage, Ms Sonjica said.
These are chiefly the reasons why electricity shortages are currently being experienced, although the minister did concede that there was may have been delay in switching policy priorities from expected production of independent power producers to greater reliance on Eskom.
"When we experienced electricity demand growth of about 3,34 per cent and 7,1 per cent in 2002 and 2003 respectively, projections were revised and it was confirmed that the new power generation would be required by 2007," she said.
And this additional power would come from peaking plants, to cater to peak demand.
As a result, in September 2003 the department of Minerals and energy informed cabinet that South Africa was running out of excess capacity faster than expected and that additional capacity would be required by 2007.
The lead time for such projects was about three years, and key decisions made then were to instruct Eskom to ensure security of supply until 2007, adding that 70 percent of electricity requirements beyond 2008 would be provided by Eskom.
The rest was anticipated to come from independent power producers, along the lines of an earlier decision for IPPs to produce as much as 30 percent of the country's electricity.
However, once government realised that the private sector lacked the "appetite" for power provision, there was a move towards greater reliance on Eskom.
"There may have been a delay," in the decision between moving away from anticipated generation from IPPS to a reliance again on the ability of Eskom to deliver, said Ms Sonjica.
For this, the minister said she apologised to the people of South Africa, while thanking them for putting up with the hardship - especially in the case of business - and the inconvenience of occasional power cuts.
Speaking to the house afterwards, Fatima Chohan, the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, pointed out that in 2003, parts of the United States as well as Canada were plunged into darkness for over two weeks, when 265 power stations shut down because of maintenance problems.
She then quoted a former United States judge now charged with responsibility for a number of public utilities as saying that South Africa's shortages were a controlled solution to an understood problem, rather than the sheer collapse as experienced in the US in 2003.
Load-shedding - Eskom terminology for controlled power outages - is "an engineering solution to an engineering problem", she quoted the former US judge as saying.
She urged South Africans to see it in this context rather than making "hysterical" comments which hurt international investor confidence in the country.