Power utility Eskom has apologised to South Africans after on Monday abruptly implementing stage 6 load shedding, an unprecedented move in which it suppressed up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity demand to avoid a total collapse of the strained national grid.

The company effected stage 6 load shedding from 6 pm until 10 pm on Monday, before scaling down to stage 4, which entails throttling 4,000 MW of demand at any given time and would remain in place until 11 pm on Tuesday.

Eskom said Monday’s emergency shift to stage 6 had been necessitated by a high rate of generating unit breakdowns, while the power supply to the incline conveyors feeding coal to the silos at its Medupi power station had also failed, further contributing to the shortage in capacity.

South Africa – Johannesburg – 10 December 2019 – The entrance to Eskom Megawatt Park on Maxwell Drive, Woodmead. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

It said technical teams had worked around the clock so coal handling operations could resume at Medupi.

“Eskom unreservedly apologises to all South Africans for the inconvenience during this difficult period,” acting group chief executive and interim executive chairman┬áJabu Mabuza said.

“In addition, we remain grateful to large power users for their invaluable assistance offered today.”

Eskom supplies about 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity needs and the rotational power cuts are likely to hurt the already ailing economy, with┬átrade unions UASA saying small businesses which cannot afford fuel-powered generators for alternative sources of energy would be hardest-hit.

File picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Mining company Petra Diamonds said it was in the process of halting its operations in South Africa following a request by Eskom to reduce its electricity load.

– ANA, editing by Stella Mapenzauswa