Massive outages in South Africa; 'national electricity emergency' declared

The South African government on Friday declared a national electricity emergency and said it would introduce urgent measures to try to reduce demand and boost supply, as sweeping power outages caused chaos and misery across the country. It said that it would introduce an electricity rationing program to try to prevent the unpredictable power cuts of the past two weeks and warned of steep price hikes. It said it was also considering emergency measures to compel South African mines to supply the state utility Eskom with more and better coal rather than exporting it. "We are viewing the next two years as being critical," Public Enterprise Minister Alec Erwin said. But he said that the government was not considering freezing planned electricity-gobbling industrial projects, as had been suggested by Eskom. He said that there was no risk to the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. South African businesses have been crippled by the outages, which usually occur without warning. The government and Eskom say that demand for electricity has simply grown too fast to cope. Neighboring southern African nations like Botswana and Namibia, which rely heavily on South African exports, have also been badly hit by the disruption.