12 February 2019

South Africa: The Politics of Load Shedding - the Worst May Be Yet to Come


On Sunday afternoon, South Africa was hit by the first round of load shedding for 2019. On Monday afternoon, Eskom implemented what's called "Stage Four" load shedding, the highest possible intervention it can make. It is now certain that there will be much pain, for many months to come.

The reasons for the lights going out are complicated. But the current round of load shedding is likely to have a political impact. First, on voters during an election campaign, and second, on whether it will be possible to actually fix the utility. At the same time, it is becoming clear that there are well-organised, well-funded people who have an interest in thwarting the current plans to fix Eskom.

The political and economic importance of Eskom cannot be overstated. Early in 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa was able to appoint an Eskom task team while Jacob Zuma was still president. It was perhaps the most assertive step Ramaphosa had taken before he was able to fully remove Zuma. It showed, in one move, his political power - from that moment on, Zuma's days in office were numbered.

Then, Ramaphosa's interventions - the appointment of the current board, and asking Phakamani Hadebe to...

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