This year’s Mining Indaba conference was notable for two things. One was the prominent presence of both Chinese and U.S. delegations looking for critical minerals partners in Africa. The other was that it shone a glaring spotlight on South Africa’s deepening energy crisis.
Just two days after speaking at Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster in response to rolling blackouts that have become ever more frequent in the nation.
The Feb. 9 declaration was not a surprise; instead, it finally reflected the reality that South Africans have been living for the past 15 years and has only worsened in recent months.
Last year, the population endured 288 days of electricity cuts, according to the BBC, with 2023 bringing blackouts of up to 15 hours per day. At the beginning of February, the country had experienced 100 consecutive days of scheduled rolling blackouts or “loadshedding,” according to a Bloomberg report. Not only have the blackouts knee-capped businesses, but when they happen at night, the total darkness has emboldened criminals and left citizens vulnerable — and infuriated.
State-owned Eskom produces over 90% of the country’s electricity, and its aging coal plants are starting to give out. Eskom’s R400 billion (US$22.3 billion) debt is a big factor in why it hasn’t made necessary investments in maintenance and new capacity over the years. (Observers point to corruption as a secondary factor.)