Protests force South Africa’s Eskom to widen power cuts

In the past, Eskom’s wage talks have turned fraught, leading to similar protests which hampered operations.

South African state power company Eskom said it would be forced to widen electricity cuts this weekend as labour protests linked to deadlocked wage talks disrupt operations.

The utility company, which has struggled to meet power demand in Africa’s most industrialised nation for more than a decade, has been implementing rotational outages since the start of the week. But it will increase the severity of the outages across the weekend

“While exploring possible solutions to unlock the deadlock with the unions, Eskom appeals to its labour partners and striking employees to embrace the higher purpose of putting the people of South Africa first,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Eskom said earlier that the protests had included incidents of intimidation of working employees and blockades on roads leading to power stations. The company has asked the police to restore order.

The negotiations with trade unions including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa broke down on Tuesday. In the past, Eskom’s wage talks have turned fraught, too, leading to similar protests which hampered operations.

The loss-making utility, saddled with a huge debt pile approaching 400 billion rand ($25bn), is trying to contain costs as part of turnaround efforts under Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter.

Reforming Eskom is a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, but efforts to improve power plant performance are yet to bear fruit.

Eskom has a total nominal capacity of 46,000 MW, but it said on Friday that more than 20,000 MW was offline due to breakdowns and planned maintenance.

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