Home News Manifesto Magic: What Have Parties Said About Loadshedding?

Manifesto Magic: What Have Parties Said About Loadshedding?

by Zahid Jadwat

Manifesto magic: parties have plans to end loadshedding, but can they pull it off? [Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images]


Some politicians will have you believe loadshedding can be terminated within six months. Others say two months. Can the magic of manifestos promise away loadshedding? An expert thinks not.

In an interview on Salaamedia, Hartmut Winkler, professor of physics at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) carefully outlined the manifesto positions of various political parties. This was as the country gears up for the 2024 national poll.

The country has endured prolonged stages of rolling blackouts for longer than a decade. Loadshedding intensified in 2023, during which the nation was plunged into at least 332 days of darkness.

Naturally, parties have dedicated up to 10% of their manifestos to promises of brighter days. “If anybody was able to persuade they’d really be able to sort out loadshedding in a reasonably short timespan, this is definitely a vote catcher,” he said.

But the problem is nobody has the “perfect answer”, because “it’s just not feasible to do that”.


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What are the parties saying?

Promises by parties to end loadshedding are backed by a range of solutions. These, obviously, align with the ideological positions of the respective parties. This means anything from capitalist- to socialist-inspired ideas.

“On the one hand, you get parties which seem to favour putting in more solar and wind. This tends to be the parties that will typically argue for more free market, liberal policies in other spheres,” said Winkler.

“On the other hand, you’ll find parties that tend to prefer socialist solutions. [They] seem to have preferred the options of going for big builds, such as coal, nuclear, gas and so on. The ANC is sitting more-or-less in the middle.”

The African National Congress (ANC), whose government was warned of an impending energy crisis as early on as 1998, vows to end loadshedding if given another chance.

Its manifesto reminds voters that it has, since 2019, taken “decisive measures” to end load shedding and to ensure energy security. Should it be re-elected, it promises to boost energy supply. Renewable sources are among the options.

Without delving deep into detail, it promises to achieve this by installing solar water geysers in working class and poor households, and by developing gas, nuclear and hydro power projects. These are not exactly fresh ideas.

Dubbing its manifesto as a “rescue plan” for South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition, lists the eradication of loadshedding at number two of its apex priorities.

For an end to loadshedding, it tells voters, reliance on the state-owned power utility, Eskom, must be reduced. Private generators must be allowed to fill the gap to meet demand.

“The DA will secure our country’s power supply and end load-shedding by breaking up the Eskom monopoly and enabling increased self-generation among consumers, businesses, and municipalities in good standing,” it reads.

It points to the DA-led City of Cape Town’s “cash-for-electricity” initiative, among others, to demonstrate how this will work. With R53 million set aside, the city plans to buy excess power from homeowners and businesspeople.

The left-leaning Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the youngest of the three, spelt out a laundry list of more than two-dozen priorities in its manifesto. “STOP LOADSHEDDING” places third, after land and jobs.

Promising to eradicate loadshedding through a model inspired by their comrades in China, their manifesto is confident an EFF government will be able to secure electricity supply at least until 2044.

Among its plans: a state-owned mining company to manage coal mines owned by Eskom to ensure “quality coal supply at affordable prices”. It also wants excess coal to be exported mainly to African countries.

In a South Africa governed by the Marxists, it envisions the private sector being afforded “controlled participation” of 30-40%. This will be through a procurement process that supports “ownership transfer to the majority of black people”.


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Can manifesto magic pull it off?

It will be great if any political party can halt loadshedding at the earliest. In the years that politicians have downplayed the energy crisis as something that is “not the end of the world”, the economy has taken blow after blow and jobs have been decimated.

The year 2023 saw some of the country’s darkest days. With loadshedding at an all-time high, the year ended with muted economic growth. It grew by a mere 0.6% that year, with experts doubtful of future prospects so long as there is inadequate electricity supply.

“For Eskom not to be a binding constraint on SA GDP growth,” said Chris Holdsworth, Chief Investment Strategist at Investec Wealth & Investment in 2023, “the Energy Availability Factor (EAF) needs to average about 70% for the year. Then 3% growth is a reality. At a 60% EAF, we can’t grow”.

As much as manifestos would have one believe there is a magic wand that can get loadshedding out of the way, the reality, said Winkler, is that “there is no easy solution”.

For now, Winkler said, the best we can achieve is reduced power cuts. But even that is at least three years out of reach from the grasp of the present.

“In the ideal scenario, it’s going to be a little bit better … we would really love to be where we were five years ago, [when] we had some loadshedding, but it was an occasional event. If everything goes well, we might be back there in three or four years’ time”.


The embattled power utility has itself cautioned it will take years to resolve the energy crisis. In January, chairperson Mpho Makwana said it would take two years before the lights are back on, uninterruptedly. In a statement, the utility acknowledged that additional capacity was “the only way to end loadshedding”.

The reasons why manifesto magic will not end loadshedding, he said, were twofold: age-old, crippled, coal-fired power stations, and any other solution is simply either “very expensive”, “time consuming”, or both.

The bottom line is this: “You are still only going to be able to build up your actual generating capacity quite slowly”. Even the quickest options, like solar farms, will take no less than two years to be set up. Manifesto magic cannot save the day.

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