South Africa's Ramaphosa says Eskom cannot be allowed to fail

by Reuters
Thursday, 20 June 2019 18:11 GMT

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CAPE TOWN, June 20 (Reuters) - South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged on Thursday to speed up 230 billion rand ($16.11 billion) of support for ailing power utility Eskom, which he said was too vital to the economy to be allowed to fail. In his first state of the nation address since leading his party to victory in a May 8 election, Ramaphosa said Eskom's financial position remains a matter of grave concern.

"Eskom is too vital to our economy and it cannot be allowed to fail," he said. "We will therefore table a special appropriation bill on an urgent basis to allocate a significant portion of the 230 billion rand fiscal support that Eskom will require over the next 10 years in the early years." In February the government pledged a 23 billion rand a year bailout over three years, but the firm says it needs more cash to keep the lights on after nationwide blackouts earlier in the year. A trade union leader turned businessman, Ramaphosa replaced scandal-hit predecessor Jacob Zuma as president in February 2018 and then was elected president after his party won a majority in May 8 parliamentary elections.

He has pledged to speed up badly needed economic reforms, but he faces a huge task reviving an economy that just posted its biggest quarterly contraction in a decade.

"Our economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created. This is the concern that rises above all others," he said. "We need to focus on those actions that will have the greatest impact".

The economy slumped by 3.2% in the first three months of 2019, and unemployment, which has remained stubbornly high a quarter century after the end of white minority apartheid rule, is at a 15-year peak of 27%. ($1 = 14.2800 rand) (Reporting by Wendell Roelf Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg Writing by Tim Cocks Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Alexandra Hudson)

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