/ 28 January 2024

Want votes? Get the basics right

Power Cuts Ahead Of Eskom Holdings Ltd.s $22 Billion Debt Plan
A generator supplying power to a store is secured and locked to a traffic light during load-shedding in the Linden district of Johannesburg. (Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Election year brings a host of problems for the ANC. There’s a common perception that this is when the ruling party works its hardest to ensure the lights stay on, and people have water and other basic services. 

Failure to do so leaves it in a precarious position; disgruntled voters might decide to vote for another party. When discussing whether the ANC’s impressive handling of the Israel-Gaza situation would sway voters, a colleague said people in rural areas are unlikely to be influenced. 

People care about whether their basic needs are met. Above all else: electricity and water. 

Load-shedding is South Africa’s favourite bogey word. We’ve had power cuts this year, but we’ve been spared going above stage three. Considering that the electricity supply was relatively good during the summer holidays, it will surely leave people with a better taste in their mouths. The threat of higher stages of load-shedding hasn’t materialised — yet. 

Is that down to better management, better performance of the coal fleet, a lower demand for electricity, or is it something else? A major reason could be the continued use of diesel to run open cycle gas turbines (OCGT), which means Eskom can stave off higher stages of load-shedding — despite it being a major cost to the state-owned power utility.

If you listen to Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa at his energy action updates, you’ll hear that Eskom is using diesel to run the gas turbines. This cost is a part of the reason Eskom recorded a loss of R23.9 billion last year. 

The spend on diesel was in excess of R20 billion; the budget was R6.1 billion. In his update on Tuesday, Ramokgopa said Eskom has only R4 billion of its R29 billion budget for diesel left for the financial year ending on 31 March. He also said Eskom slowed down the use of the gas turbines to ensure this budget was not passed, which resulted in load-shedding being stepped up a notch. 

“It is because 3 000 megawatts of the capacity available is drawn from the open cycle gas turbine, which uses diesel, and we have reduced our consumption of diesel.”

The 3 000MW means three stages of load-shedding can be bypassed. These megawatts are critical to ensure positive public perception. Although the minister said the battle to reduce the higher levels of load-shedding is progressing well, many power stations are undergoing maintenance — yet the load-shedding remains low. 

I think there will be a concerted effort to ensure that load-shedding is kept to a minimum to ensure votes swing toward the ruling party. Consider the same time last year; we were floating from stages four to six. This year we are experiencing stages one and two. The difference, I believe, is this year is an election year. 

Load-shedding also disrupts the supply of water. A press statement sent out on 18 January stated that maintenance of Eskom’s power stations would affect some water pumps which would in turn determine whether suburbs would receive water. 

The maintenance was supposed to last only a day, yet two to three days later people still had empty taps. In areas such as Vrededorp in Johannesburg people face ongoing water supply problems. 

Issues such as water outages will influence voters to go elsewhere. Johannesburg’s ward 58, comprising areas such as Mayfair, Fordsburg, Vrededorp and Crosby, is an example of this. In the past few years, the ward has shifted from the ANC to the Democratic Alliance (DA) and then back to the ANC, when Ricky Nair took over as ward councillor.  

The constant water issues in the ward led many people to vote for a councillor they knew and trusted instead of the DA, who many believe oversaw the worst of the water problems in the area. 

As the ruling party, the ANC has its hands full with keeping the lights on and the water flowing. Without this, the ANC will struggle to remain the ruling party again. 

We are likely to see the miraculous recovery of the power stations during the next few months ahead of the elections. The opposition will invariably have a complaint — that we’re burning too much diesel or something along similar lines, and how inefficient the ruling party is. 

Many believe this will be the tightest election we have ever had. Small things may sway voters away from a party. The ANC will have to work overtime, ensuring the power is on, grants are paid and clean water flows to the taps.