In the latest blow to South Africans already reeling from scheduled load-shedding, entire cities will now be plunged into darkness as Eskom institutes even more extreme power cuts.
The shock development, which will be known as sector-sharing, will see the country divided into four vertical zones, each spanning many thousands of square kilometres.
Due to unprecedented power demand from consumers and unscheduled maintenance on a number of crucial generators, electricity supply in April is forecast to be so low that only three of these four zones will be switched on during peak demand times.
Towns and cities in a switched-off zone can expect to be without electricity for a minimum of six hours at a time.
Flanked by Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin, a grim-faced Jacob Maroga, CEO of Eskom, told a press conference in Pretoria late on Monday that the utility had little choice but to implement the aggressive new power-saving scheme.
“We’ve done our homework … there is just not enough power to go around,” he said, adding that emergency maintenance on Eskom’s generators was partly to blame.
Zone three includes, from south to north, the cities of Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Sector-sharing will affect this zone most of all as it includes almost the entire Gauteng economic hub.
Zone-four power cuts will bring simultaneous power failures to Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane. The other two zones span the Western and north-west Northern Cape (including Cape Town), and the north-east of the Northern Cape, part of the Eastern Cape and large parts of North West, respectively.
Eskom’s generator problems include damage to vital supply cables at Koeberg nuclear power station in the Western Cape. Said Maroga: “A plague of rats has moved in at Koeberg and gnawed the generator cables. Government has implemented an extermination policy, but it will take time before the rodents have been eliminated.”
In the meantime, both of Koeberg’s reactors will have to be shut down for cable repairs.
Sector-sharing starts countrywide on April 1, said Maroga, adding: “Eskom advises all consumers not to be foolish, but to save electricity where they can.”
Fooled? Don’t worry, no countrywide power zones are on their way. This was simply the Mail & Guardian Online’s April Fool’s Day story published early on April 1 2008. Read our round-up of the day’s best pranks