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Frustration as load shedding grips SA

Load shedding kicked into high gear for the first time in six years.

Load shedding has been implemented for the first time since 2008. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba says he understands the frustration and annoyance that today's load shedding is causing millions of South Africans who are stuck in traffic jams and unable to bath or cook.

Eskom announced a power-grid emergency early this morning and then confirmed that power cuts would start at 9am.

The power utility says it had to implement the power cuts because coal supplies were wet after days of heavy rains.

This is the first time Eskom has implemented load shedding in six years.

Certain regions are now being cut off for around two to four hours on a rotational system.

Gigaba's spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete says while the minister understands the public's frustration, it is important to remember that load shedding is done to protect electricity systems from a black out.

Eskom's Andrew Etzinger says the weather has made an already precarious situation worse.

"We have low reserve margins at the best of times and when it rains, it certainly affects production at power stations. We've been working very hard to make ourselves more resilient over the last couple of years, but seven days of continuous rain has just put us over the edge."

Etzinger says the power utility did know there would be wet weather but didn't have all the information they needed.

"Rain fall is far less easy to predict than temperature."

But questions have been raised about Eskom's explanation that wet coal was to blame for the rolling power cuts.

'ESKOM IN MUCH BETTER SHAPE'

Eskom says despite the fact it has implemented its system of planned power cuts around the country today, it's still in much better shape to deal with the demand on its grid than it was in 2008.

The utility has been battling to get its new Medupi power station online and producing electricity.

Etzinger says the utility is in substantially better shape than it was six years ago.

"This time in 2008 our average coal stockpile levels at power stations were under 10 days but today they are sitting at 45 days."

Energy expert Chris Yelland says the delays at Medupi are responsible for today's load shedding.

"We should've had an extra 3,000 megawatts on the grid right now from Medupi - this is the 3,000 megawatts that Eskom are saying they are load shedding today. Had we had Medupi on time, we wouldn't have had load shedding."

Yelland says Eskom must face up to the idea that the parastatal itself is solely to blame for the country's power woes.

"When the weather is hot, they blame the hot weather. When the weather is cold, they blame the cold weather. And when it's raining, they blame the wet weather.The bottom line is they're blaming everybody except themselves."

He says Eskom simply hasn't been upfront with South Africans about the true nature of the situation.

"Eskom have been underplaying the possibility of load shedding for many months."

Meanwhile, South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, Neren Rau, says the power cuts will have a huge impact on business.

"To most businesses, electricity is fundamental so no electricity means no business. We hope the load shedding programme isn't extended too far into the future."

The power cuts have seen flights delayed at OR Tambo International Airport, hospitals having to run on generators and motorists having to contend with bad traffic.

The Gautrain was also unable to run trains between Rosebank and Marlboro for a period.

'POWER CUTS SHOULDN'T BE VIEWED AS A CRISIS'

Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, says the power outages should not be viewed as a crisis but a temporary setback.

She was briefing journalists at Parliament today on cabinet's regular fortnightly meeting.

Molewa said the ministers of energy and public enterprises would be asked to meet with Eskom to discuss how they planned to prevent coal supplies from becoming saturated with water in the future.

"It will be important for us as government to ensure we really mitigate this problem so it doesn't occur again."

Molewa urged South Africans to use energy sparingly to ease the situation.

Visit Eskom's website for a full load shedding schedule.

Download City Power's load shedding schedule.