Another Dimension of Load-Shedding can last up to 10 Hours

South Africans who complain about load shedding can thank their lucky stars that they are not living in Zambia at the moment. That country has been suffering power failures of up to ten hours a day. This, say local trade unionists and journalists, interviewed by telephone, has created chaos at petrol stations and severely hampered the already embattled mining industry. One obvious sign of the day time power outages is the line of vehicles at local filling stations since petrol and diesel can only be pumped when power is on. But the major sufferers have been the copper mines, that are both the largest users of power and the biggest contributors to the national fiscus.

Copper accounts for 80% of all export receipts and the overwhelming bulk of all company tax comes from the mines. The power failures have meant a drastic reduction in mining output, with some companies putting parts of their operations onto a “care and maintenance” basis, with a consequent loss of jobs. There has been little official comment about the latest bout of even more chronic power failures, but it is an open secret that there was a major management failure at the Katiba dam. Large quantities of water were apparently released when there was not enough upstream flow to replenish the dam and drive the turbines that supply electricity.

However, even before the latest crisis, there were regular outages with some mining companies threatening to withdraw from Zambia unless matters improve. The cumulative effect of the power situation, soaring national debt and the country having to rely largely on imports of manufactured goods, has seen a property buyers’ market develop.

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