No light at the end of the load-shedding tunnel

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has apologised for load-shedding.

JOHANNESBURG - Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan could not say when load-shedding would end as state utility Eskom suffered a sixth day of capacity constraints which could thwart efforts to boost economic growth.

Neither could Eskom officials say how much it would cost to fix faults such as boiler leaks at its ageing coal-fired power plants, as new breakdowns continued to take management by surprise.

Around 17,000 megawatts (MW) of Eskom's 45,000 MW installed capacity is unavailable because of problems including faults at the mammoth new Kusile and Medupi power stations, diesel shortages and a loss of imports from Mozambique, which has been battered by a cyclone.

READ: We need time, says Gordhan on load-shedding

Eskom supplies more than 90 percent of the power in Africa's most industrialised economy but is saddled with R420-billion of debt. It has implemented power cuts every day since Thursday, with up to 4,000 MW cut from the grid.

"Overcoming load-shedding will be a huge struggle," Gordhan told reporters.

He said engineers were visiting Eskom power stations to assess how long it would take to fix problems there and that once those investigations were complete officials would say more about the power outlook.

Eskom Chairman Jabu Mabuza said the utility was looking at whether to halt work on the Medupi and Kusile plants, which are running years and tens of billions of rand behind schedule, but had not arrived at a decision.

READ: Load-shedding to continue as Eskom battles shortages

Another concern is the potential for further strikes, as trade unions have expressed anger at government plans to restructure Eskom into three separate units for generation, transmission and distribution.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the biggest union at Eskom, said in a statement on Tuesday that it met President Cyril Ramaphosa, Gordhan and Energy Minister Jeff Radebe to express its concerns at the proposed restructuring.

NUM said the meeting was productive and that Ramaphosa had given assurances that no jobs would be lost as a result of the plan to split Eskom.