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Yes, neighbourly South Africa helps keep Zimbabwe’s lights on

This article is more than 5 years old

  • Answering a question in parliament, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Zimbabwe continued to import electricity from South Africa.

  • A deal between the countries allows Zimbabwe to import at least 50 MW a day – amounting to 2,250 GWh in 2017/18.

  • The deal runs to 2022, but may run into problems if coal supplies decline.

After an hour and a half of answering questions in parliament, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa wasted little time on a question from the opposition Democratic Alliance about corruption in his party, the African National Congress.

“Can you guarantee South Africa, today, that the ANC will not benefit a cent from these deals that you have made in China?” the DA’s Jacques Julius asked in the National Council of Provinces on 11 September 2018.

Ramaphosa responded that it was a “quite insulting” question which “truly does not deserve an answer”.

The ANC’s Mandla Rayi then asked Ramaphosa for details on how a R33 billion loan from China would help Eskom, the country’s power utility, ensure electricity supply in southern Africa.

Ramaphosa said it would go towards developing the new Kusile power plant and increasing the capacity of South Africa’s electricity grid. This would allow the country to keep supplying nearby countries with electricity.

“Zimbabwe continues to import electricity from us,” Ramaphosa said.

Does South Africa supply electricity to neighbouring Zimbabwe?

Eskom exports power to seven countries

Africa Check partner ZimFact has asked Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, for the source of the claim, but she is yet to respond.

Prof Anton Eberhard of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business is part of the board appointed in 2015 to oversee Eskom’s turnaround. He said Eskom exported electricity to seven countries in southern Africa: Zimbabwe, Lesotho, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.

“Eskom has been adding new power generation capacity - for example, power units at Medupi, Kusile and Ingula that have been commissioned,” he said. “At the same time, electricity demand in South Africa is flat and is actually lower this year than in 2007.”

Eskom’s media department told ZimFact it had a “firm power supply agreement” with Zimbabwe under which the country got 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity a day. Zimbabwe could also ask for more than that, as long as the electricity was available and the request made a day before.

(Note: The Zimbabwe Power Company was generating 1,409 MW a day, as shown in the most recent figures on its website, with its holding company importing up to 450 MW of electricity a day, according to September 2017 figures.)

This arrangement started on 1 April 2017 and will run to 31 March 2022. In Eskom’s 2017/18 financial year, exports to Zimbabwe added up to 2,250 gigawatt hours (GWh).

South Africa’s electricity sales to Zimbabwe
2013/14154 GWh
2014/15108 GWh
2015/16252 GWh
2016/171,743 GWh
2017/182,250 GWh

Source: Eskom Integrated Report 2018

It’s import or lights out for Zimbabwe

William Ponela, an engineer and head of Zimbabwean small-scale power supplier Zonful Energy, said Zimbabwe also imported electricity from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s power company and the Cahora Bassa hydropower plant in Mozambique.

“Zimbabwe currently has low electricity demand but at its peak had a demand of 2,200 MW,” he said. “Currently, most of our industries are functioning at low capacity. When our industry kick starts, demand will go up and Zimbabwe will experience a lot of load shedding.”

Ebenhard said it “makes sense” for Zimbabwe to import electricity. “Its own power stations are badly maintained and don’t produce enough electricity to meet local demand. If they did not import from Eskom they would have more blackouts.”

But how long will Zimbabwe be able to rely on South Africa for the imports? Ebenhard said Eskom had extra power it could export - “for now, that is”.

“There are reports that Eskom is struggling to contract enough coal to power its power stations. If those coal stockpiles continue to decline, then there may be problems in Eskom generating enough electricity.”

Conclusion: Deal allows Zimbabwe to import at least 50 MW of electricity from SA daily

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked in parliament for the details of a R33 billion loan from China.

He said the loan would help develop a new power plant so that South Africa could continue supplying electricity to the southern African region. He added that neighbouring Zimbabwe continued to import electricity from South Africa.

Zimbabwe imports 50 MW of electricity from South Africa every day, and may import more if extra power is available. This is in terms of a deal with Eskom, South Africa’s power utility.

The deal runs from 2017 to 2022. But if Eskom has difficulty in getting all the coal it needs for its power plants, it may struggle to generate enough electricity. This could cause problems in the arrangement with Zimbabwe.

This fact-check was produced as part of an Africa Check fellowship completed by Lifaqane Nare, a researcher at Zimbabwe’s fact-checking platform ZimFact.


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