At the end of a week of unprecedented power cuts across southern Africa, South Africa's Cabinet declared a "national electricity emergency" and announced energy-saving measures including solar power and more use of gas.

According to an Associated Press report, major mining companies including AngloGold, Harmony and Gold Fields Ltd. had suspended work at some of their mines this past Friday for fear power cuts would trap workers underground.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Cabinet said President Thabo Mbeki “'has accepted that this government got its timing wrong' in waiting until 2004 before giving the country’s main electricity generator, Eskom, the mandate to embark on urgent, large-scale programs to build more power stations," allAfrica.com reported.

“The underlying problem,” the government said, “is the very significant rise in demand, particularly over the past few years, resulting from an economy working at full capacity and the rising standards of living, with close on 3.5 million homes having access to electricity from 1994. In a sense we are the victims of our own success.”

The government said that power outages would continue for some time: It said it aimed to “minimize… disruptive unplanned outages” and that its measures “will give us much more comfort within a two-year period.”

South African businesses have been crippled by the outages, which usually occur without warning, the AP said.

Neighboring countries Botswana and Namibia, which rely heavily on South African energy exports, have also been badly hit by the disruptions.

The government is proposing the following:

  • Promoting solar water heaters and solar-power traffic and street lights.
  • Introducing liquefied petroleum gas (LP gas).
  • Distributing energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • Introducing power rationing.
  • Putting pressure on the coal industry, which is exporting its best quality coal, to provide local power stations with a higher quality coal.