There will be no load-shedding on voting day, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday night.
Speaking at a press briefing after the country was moved to level 4 rotational blackouts earlier in the day, the minister said he had held “intensive discussions” with Eskom’s board and senior management.
He said that he was assured that measures were in place to ensure that the voting and vote-counting would not be affected by load-shedding — unless there was an “unexpected event”.
Gordhan said that overnight on Wednesday about 2,000MW of power would be returned to operation, which means that load-shedding would be downgraded from level 4 to level 3. Then, over the course of Thursday and Friday, “a few more thousand” megawatts would be brought back online, which will see load-shedding further reduced to level 2.
“Over the weekend, I’m told by the Eskom management, load-shedding will stop, which means that as South Africans go to the polls on Monday and as the counting proceeds on Monday evening and over next few days, there will be no load-shedding unless there is some unexpected event — which I’m assured by the board and management is unlikely ,” said Gordhan.
He added that Eskom and government were doing “everything possible” to ensure the elections were not disrupted.
Gordhan said that he had met senior IEC officials on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their contingency plans should the lights go out.
Among the plans were having generators at the ready and technicians on duty. Scanners that will be used for barcoded IDs will be fully charged and have a battery life of 12 hours, meaning this process is unlikely to be affected by blackouts.
“So, from the information that has been made available to us, it’s clear that the election process will not be disrupted by a lack of electricity supply,” he said.
Asked about whether these assurance only came because the utility was planning on cutting back on maintenance, Eskom group CEO Andre de Ruyter said: “In the period leading up to elections, we will be cutting back on some of our short-term maintenance. This is in order for us to restore both our pump storage levels and diesel levels in order to to provide the added resilience to the system that the minister was referring to.
“But we will not bring back units that are on long-term outages earlier than planned. We will continue with our programme of about 5,000MW being on planned maintenance. That is our plan, and we are going to stick to that.”
De Ruyter added that any predictions or promises about not needing load-shedding for the election was done with “some humility, and there’s always a residual risk”.
“So, can we give you a cast-iron guarantee [of no load-shedding for the elections]? Part of the reason that we have load-shedding right now is to replenish our reserves… so that we can maintain adequate reserve buffer precisely to cater for these unforeseen events and to ensure, to the best of our ability, that there will be no load-shedding on election day.
“That is why the decision to implement load-shedding right now was made – specifically with the view of securing supply and capacity during election day,” he said.
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