SA power cuts plunge Qacha into darkness




MASERU – South Africa’s erratic load shedding has spread its tentacles into parts of Lesotho.

Public Eye can report that rural Mokhotlong and Qacha’s Nek districts are currently experiencing repeated power cuts as a result of load shedding in South Africa, compelling the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) to procure backup generators to assist during load shedding.

LEC has had to spent about M11.6 million to secure two standby generators to respond to the Eskom load shedding. The generator for Mokhotlong was launched on March 6 to begin operations.

The two districts get electricity directly from South Africa’s giant power utility– Eskom – so they have easily become victims of recurrent power cuts borne by residents in that country’s towns and villages in recent years.

It is expected that load shedding in South Africa will run for the next 18 months, according to Eskom, putting power supply in the two districts under immense pressure. LEC Public Relations Officer, Tšepang Ledia, told Public Eye this week that the two districts continue to experience power cuts each time South Africa (in Clarens and Matatiele where the districts get their power from) experiences load shedding.

He said the generators are a contigence measure to assist businesses and other essential services in the area to continue running even at the time of load shedding. Ledia said the capacity of the generators is a maximum of 10 hours during the main power cut, adding that while the generators have been secured to operate when there is load shedding ordinary residents will, however, continue to experience power cuts as they won’t be covered by the generators.

“For as long as Matatiele and Clarens experience load shedding, it means these two districts will experience power cuts but the generators will assist the towns.” Ledia said. He said the long term solution of the repeated power cuts or load shedding would be ensuring that the two districts are connected to the main grid in the country. The generators are a temporary solution.

He said there are already plans to connect the two districts to the national grid that is expected to run from Mazenod and connect Semongkong but LEC has not been able to do so in the past years due to a number of challenges, including financial constraints.

Ledia outlined that for the LEC, the latest application for tariff increases will boost the company’s coffers to enable it to work towards incorporating the two districts in the national grid. He explained that the generators were pivotal in that when the company explores ways to find a permanent solution, essential services within the two towns will continue run services like hospitals, businesses and schools with minimal interruptions.

“Besides scheduled load shedding, the generators will assist in the planned and unplanned cuts when the company confronts whatever challenges we may be faced with at any given time,” Ledia said. During the power cuts, Ledia said, the LEC observed a decline in the rate at which customers buy electricity.

This state of affairs in the two districts has since received attention from the National Assembly, when on Tuesday this week the Qacha’s Nek Member of Parliament (MP) under the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Pontšo Sekatle, moved a motion to urge the government, through the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology, to provide electricity for Qacha’s Nek from the main grid.

Sekatle told parliament the current provision of electricity from Matatiele is characterised by frequent outages of power to the detriment of businesses, health centres and households. She said there was need for government to prioritise Qacha’s Nek to the main grid so to avoid the burden of load shedding. The Quthing MP said the fact that Quthing still relies on the South African electricity means that the district will continue to be affected by any challenges facing by Matatiele.

She cited an incident when Matatiele residents were protesting against bad services and destroyed the Eskom equipment resulting with the Qacha’s Nek not receiving electricity. “As I deliver this motion today, Qacha’s Nek has been without electricity since four, the repeated power cuts have affected the district negatively as even the crime rate is increasing,” Sekatle told Parliament on Tuesday.

She said the challenge facing the district have always existed and that even governments before the current one have not being able to solve the issue. The fact that Qacha’s Nek electricity is from Matatiele has meant that the district power connection remains low. National Independent Party (NIP) leader, Kimetso Mathaba, supported the motion and urged government to urgently to provide Qacha’s Nek with electricity from the main grid. Mathaba said it was not a good gesture that the country kept receiving electricity from SA.

He said the repeated power cuts, if not attended to, would sabotage development projects such as the maintenance of the Mpiti to Sehlabathebe road. In the 2020/2021 financial estimates, Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro proposed construction of 10 mini-grids to assist power supply in Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong.

“Construction of 10 mini-grids and 10 energy centres is planned for 2020/21 in Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Nek districts. This will bring the most needed electricity supply to these areas while easing the burden of the already existing supply sources,” Majoro told parliament.

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