South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday cut short an official visit to Egypt because of an electricity crisis brewing at home, his spokesperson confirmed.
The president has come under increasing criticism after the country’s embattled power utility Eskom enforced scheduled power cuts that have thrown the country into disarray and pose a threat to the economy.
John Steenhuisen, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, led a picket outside Eskom headquarters in Johannesburg on Tuesday, saying the “rolling blackouts” threaten to “throw the country’s economy over a precipice.”
For the past six days – and intermittently over the past decade – Eskom has enforced “load-shedding,” whereby power is cut for anything from two to four hours at a time in a bid to relieve pressure on the national grid.
Roads become gridlocked because traffic lights don’t function, businesses have to close, shopping centres are left in the dark and mines have to halt operations.
Steenhuisen called on Ramaphosa to leave the “ruins of a bygone era” in Cairo and attend to his own relic of the past – the power utility.
Indeed, Eskom’s problems were already apparent in 2008 when then-president Thabo Mbeki admitted that the government had failed to make provisions for increased generating capacity.
Since then, ageing power stations have not been maintained, and two new power stations, which have severely overrun their budgets, are still not operational.
Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko said Ramaphosa would meet with Eskom on Wednesday to be briefed on plans to resolve the crisis.