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South Africa can’t say when rolling blackouts will end

The South African government said Tuesday it was unsure when severe rolling electricity power cuts would end as the continent’s most developed nation struggles to grow its economy.

Utility giant Eskom imposed highly unpopular rotational power rationing, known as load-shedding, since last Thursday.

By the weekend it had escalated the blackouts to one of the severest levels – plunging swathes of the country into darkness for long hours and sparking public anger targeted at the ANC-led government, less than two months to crucial national elections.

Cash-strapped power monopoly Eskom had been plagued by maintenance problems at its plants.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said authorities were still trying to get to the bottom of the underlying issues affecting power supplies.

“We need to complete these investigations,” Gordhan told a news conference.

“We don’t have a magic formula,” Gordhan said.

“We understand the frustration,” he said, telling consumers that the utility would “get it right in the next few years.”

For many critics of the ANC, the Eskom blackouts have come to symbolise the price that South Africans are paying for alleged state corruption and mismanagement.

The power utility which generates more than 90 percent of the country’s energy is buried under a debt bill of 420 billion rand ($30 billion). Last month Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced a $1.6 billion-a-year bailout for the company.

Eskom has traditionally imported hydro-generated power from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa and Tropical Cyclone Idai which struck the region last week, knocked down some pylons that transmit power to South Africam, adding to Eskom’s woes.

Gordhan said technicians have been dispatched to assess the damage caused by the cyclone .

With national elections in May, the blackouts have shaken the ANC party, which has held power since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Analysts warn that the power outages may be one of the biggest political threat facing President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC party as elections loom.

On Sunday Ramaphosa apologised for the severe power cuts.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance said the ANC has neither the capacity, ideas nor the political will to fix the electricity crisis.

“The challenges at Eskom lie squarely at the feet of the failing ANC, which has actively looted and broken Eskom to the verge of collapse.” the DA said in a statement.