Economic development

What’s happening in Frankfort?

Many South Africans are understandably confused by a move which seems to halt the provision of privately generated electricity to the town of Frankfort in the Free State province.

The country is in a national power crisis and because it cannot meet demand, the power utility Eskom has imposed daily power cuts – sometimes for as long as eight or 10 hours – nearly every day this year.

Eskom has urged South Africans to use its electricity sparingly, and has encouraged the development of municipal and residential renewable power systems. Yet it is Eskom which has blocked Frankfort, and the Mafube municipality of which it is part, from enjoying renewable energy from a scheme for which the municipality has paid.

The town has been using a privately owned solar PV farm to power essential water and sanitation infrastructure during the daily power cuts, known as load shedding. It also provides relief to businesses and residents in the area.

Citing a danger to the stability of the national grid, Eskom moved to block the town from implementing its own load shedding schedules and sparing townsfolk from some power cuts. The town brought an urgent court application to allow it to carry on as before. It lost this week on a technicality – the failure to submit a promised affidavit – so the merits of the case have yet to be tested.

Here’s a town doing what Eskom and the government want – keeping the lights on while relieving some of the burden on Eskom – but they can’t do so because of a dispute over when power can be cut off.

A solution must be possible. In an electricity-starved country, we can only hope that sensible people come to a sensible agreement.