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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City

Is watts up an ANC vote ploy?

28 days without blackouts fuels suspicions: Is Eskom keeping lights on to sway ANC's election fate just like in 2021?

As we enter the 28th consecutive day without power blackouts, South Africans can be forgiven for suspecting Eskom is keeping the lights on to boost the ANC’s chances in the 29 May election.

We’ve seen this before. That’s why we are suspicious. Immediately after the 2021 local government elections, while counting was still under way, a spell without load shedding ended abruptly. Darkness descended.

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So, based on past behaviour, we expect blackouts to resume on 30 May, if this load shedding-free period extends that far. The ANC knows load shedding is a vote-shedder. Keeping the watts up is imperative.

Loyalists will do everything possible to avoid blackouts right now. Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa and Eskom chair Mteto Nyati have trotted out technical jargon to counter allegations of political interference.

Yet Eskom’s alphabet soup has little credible meaning.

Whether the energy availability factor (EAF) is up or down, or the open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) are on overtime or downtime, folks think the show is being manipulated.

The central allegation, that Eskom is excessively burning diesel to run gas turbines, has not been countered with coherent persuasion.

This statement by Nyati doesn’t help: “Our load factor for last year was sitting at about 18%; for the current financial year – year-to-date – the load factor for OCGTs is 9%.”

We do know Eskom overspent its R30 billion diesel budget in the financial year ending March.

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Details of April spending will reportedly be disclosed at a briefing on Friday. Unless Eskom honestly states the actual amounts spent on diesel, it will be 2024 fuelling speculation.

Absence of load shedding may also be due to lower demand because of an economic slowdown.

Greater use of solar power is also reducing Eskom’s burden.

The ANC is responsible for keeping alive the association between load shedding and the party’s electoral performance.

Last year, the ANC’s parliamentary caucus summoned Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordan and senior Eskom officials, whom they accused of sabotaging the party’s 2024 election campaign.

Indeed, that may have been where plans were started for keeping the power on now.

It was ANC MPs who dragged Eskom on to centre-stage politics. If Eskom is accused of sabotaging the ANC, can it not also be accused, by others, of favouring the ANC?

If the lights do stay on until 30 May, this may also reflect the political power balance within Eskom. If the ANC’s more ruthless political opponents want to lessen president President Cyril Ramaphosa’s chances, they know that sabotaging Eskom at critical times could be to their advantage.

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Consider former president Jacob Zuma’s Umkhonto we Sizwe party, who have scored legal successes against the ANC and the IEC.

Their tails are up. How many people in key positions at power stations – or in control of Eskom’s vast distribution network – remain loyal to Zuma?

Also, do the elusive masterminds of the July 2021 riots – which Ramaphosa called an attempt to provoke a popular insurrection – retain contacts within Eskom?

Are parts of Eskom still captured? What could these lords of darkness do to swing the vote against Ramaphosa?

Winter is coming. That means weaker solar but greater demand for heating. Who shall we blame for May blackouts?