Last night, Eskom’s tale of woe was worsened by the announcement that Jabu Mabuza, the board chair, had quit after the utility could not meet a pledge made to President Cyril Ramaphosa to avoid load shedding until next week.

Last weekend, Eskom implemented stage 2 power cuts, dropping 2000MW from the grid, which continued until yesterday. But had demand been at normal levels, it would have been necessary to move to stage 6 last weekend.

“Given the current lack of effective forward planning and poor execution on our capacity expansion strategy, stage 6 may well be a common occurrence for the foreseeable future,” said Des Muller, the managing director for Nu-Energy Developments.

“Not only does an unreliable power system constrain our economy, but it also deters local and foreign investment into our economy to help alleviate unprecedented levels of unemployment in South Africa.”

Experiencing stage 6 regularly would be detrimental.

“This will place South Africa on par with most African countries where only the minority have access to very expensive or own-generated electricity.”

Energy expert Lungile Mashele said continued outages at stage 6 could signal the shutdown of the economy.

“Industries, businesses and residents will not be able to proceed with business. Further downgrades are to be expected with a negative outlook for the economy,” she said.

“While hospitals are seldom load shed and have generators as back-ups, this is not the case, however, for palliative care institutions and houses where people are on life support systems. Those people are in danger and there have been fatalities due to load shedding.

“Load shedding that persists at this nature will have an impact on foreign direct investment, political and economic stability, employment and economic growth.”

Eskom said plant breakdowns must be limited to 9500MW of capacity to avoid load shedding. Over the past two weeks, however, breakdowns have been substantially higher, reaching 14096MW last Friday, while Monday’s breakdowns stood at 13119MW at 6am.

Over 2019 as a whole, Eskom’s energy availability factor was 67%, compared with 72% over 2018 and 79% over 2017. The last two weeks of December saw the energy availability factor hit 59.7% and 58% respectively.

Professor Hartmut Winkler from the department of physics at the University of Johannesburg expects the power situation to get far worse before it gets better.

“Things could certainly get worse, especially if some of the remaining coal plants that have been performing reasonably to date also experience major breakdowns,” said Winkler.