Over the last few hours, South Africa avoided getting perilously close to a national blackout after Eskom took the unprecedented decision to postpone the scheduled refueling and maintainance of Unit 1 at the Koeberg nuclear power plant. This last minute evasive action does not remove the threat of a national blackout as the refueling and maintainance of Unit 1 still needs to be carried out as soon as possible.
While it is widely accepted that a national blackout due to system failure is highly unlikely, the current levels of escalated loadshedding and Eskom’s significantly constrained generation capacity raises the risk of a potential national blackout. In the event of a national blackout, it is important that essential government functions remain operational and ready to provide relief to people in distress.
With Eskom’s severely constrained power supply not projected to improve anytime soon and a national blackout an ever present threat, the DA is calling on the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, to issue an advisory notice placing the National Disaster Management Centre and its Provincial equivalents on a cautionary alert.
The alert must be accompanied by a detailed government contingency plan that clearly lays out in detail the level of preparedness needed to keep essential services operational during the blackout. The plan must offer guidance to government departments and municipalities on what should be done to keep services such as water reticulation, solid waste management, health and education facilities working.
Advance preparation for a national blackout is a responsible thing to do, especially after Eskom indicated that a total collapse of the national grid would be an unforeseen event, in which the system operator would not be able to provide advanced warning should it occur.
Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, has already set up contingency measures to keep essential services operational during a power blackout scenario. Through an integrated planning session comprising the Provincial government departments, Provincial Police Commissioner, mayors and municipal officials, municipalities presented their respective contingency measures.
A key recommendation in the provincial contingency plan is for Departments and municipalities to continuously assess their readiness and risks. Departments have activated their business continuity plans to keep services on track and local governments in the province, which also have readiness plans, were encouraged to do the same.
Similar to the Western Cape provincial contingency plan, the national version should ensure that adequate diesel supplies are kept in stock to power health facilities, bulk water supply and solid waste management facilities.
The DA is well aware that a total grid collapse will be devastating to the economy and livelihoods of our citizens. This is precisely why we are of the view that all available options should be explored to avoid a national blackout. However, since the ANC government has failed to fix the energy crisis and system has been pushed to the brink, it is important that the government is prepared for a possible national blackout.