남아프리카공화국이 지난 2주간 잇따라 발생한 정전사태를 해소하기 위해 전력할당제를 실시한다고 발표했습니다. 남아공에서는 이번 정전사태로 인해 기업들의 운영이 마비되고 곳곳이 암흑에 휩싸였습니다. 또 금 광산업체들이 전력부족으로 생산을 중단하기로 하면서 금 가격이 사상 최고치를 경신했습니다.

남아프리카공화국의 알렉 어윈 (Alec Erwin) 공기업장관은 지난 25일 긴급 각료회의 후 전력할당 계획을 발표했습니다.

어윈 장관은 “예기치 못하고 계획되지 않았던 정전사태를 이제는 국가 전력비상사태로 다루고 이에 상응하는 강력하고  조율된 긴급 조치들을 취해야한다는게 내각의 입장”이라고 말했습니다.

이번 계획에 따라 상업 소비자들은 전력 소비량을 5% 내린 20%로 줄여야하며 개인 소비자들은 소비량을 10% 줄여야합니다.

이런 가운데 남아공의 금 광산업체들은 25일 안전문제 우려로 생산을 중단했습니다. 이는 남아공의 국영 전력회사인 에스콤 (Eskom)이 광산에 대한 전력공급을 보장할 수 없다고 밝힌데 따른 것입니다. 세계 최대의 백금 광산에서도 생산이 중단됐습니다. 세계시장에서는 금과 백금의 가격이 최고치를 경신했습니다.

에스콤은 인접국가들에 대한 전력 수출도 줄였습니다. 남아공으로부터 자국 전체 전력의 70%를 수입하는 보츠와나와 40%를 수입하는 나미비아가 특히 큰 타격을 받았습니다.

기업인들은 남아공 정부의 이번 계획을 환영하고 있다고 ‘비즈니스 유니티’ (Business Unity) 협회의 제리 빌라카지 (Jerry Vilakazi) 대표는 말했습니다.

빌라카지 대표는 “기업인들은 지난 2주간 상황이 매일 악화되는 것을 보면서 걱정했다”고 말했습니다. 빌라카지 대표는 “경기가 큰 타격을 받았다”며 “정부가 이번 문제에 대해 진지하게 대처하고 있음을 기업들에 확인시켜 준 것은 매우 중요했다”고 말했습니다.

남아공은 경제성장에도 불구하고 새 발전소 건설에 투자하지 않은데 따라 지난 몇달간 전력부족이 더욱 심각해졌습니다. 몇주 전에는 에스콤이 정기점검을 위해 발전소 몇 곳의 전력을 차단한데다 다른 발전소들은 기술적인 문제로 폐쇄되면서 전력공급 부족 상황이 심각했습니다.

남아공 정부는 새 발전소 건설에 4백 억 달러를 투자할 계획입니다. 그러나 이들 발전소들은 5년 뒤에야 가동에 들어 갈 수 있습니다. 정부는 또 낡고 사용중지된 발전소들을 다시 재가동시킬 계획이지만 이렇게 되려면 앞으로 몇년이 걸릴 예정입니다.

South Africa has announced the rationing of electricity in order to ease power outages that have crippled businesses and darkened neighborhoods for the past two weeks. A decision by gold mining firms to suspend operations due to the power shortage has sent the price of gold to record highs. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

South Africa's Minister of Public Enterprises, Alec Erwin, announced the rationing plan Friday after an emergency cabinet meeting.

"It is the view of cabinet that the unprecedented, unplanned power outages must now be treated as a national electricity emergency that has to be addressed with the urgent, vigorous and coordinated actions commensurate with such an emergency situation," he said.

Under the plan, commercial consumers will be required to reduce consumption by five to 20 percent. Private consumers will have to reduce their usage by 10 percent.

Traffic and street lights will be backed up by solar-powered batteries. And a program is to be launched to install one million solar water heaters in three years and convert lighting to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs.

Also on Friday, South Africa's major gold mining companies suspended operations over safety concerns after the state-owned power company, Eskom, advised it could not guarantee electrical power at the mines. The world's largest platinum mine also suspended operations. The price of gold and platinum on world markets reached record highs.

Eskom has also cut exports of electricity to neighboring countries. Botswana - which imports 70 percent of its power from South Africa - and Namibia - which imports 40 percent - were especially hard hit.

The head of the Business Unity association, Jerry Vilakazi, says businessmen are welcoming the government's plan.

"We were getting worried that over the past two weeks we have seen the situation deteriorating day by day," he said. "Business has been hit very hard. For the government to come forward to assure us that they are seriously addressing this issue was very critical."

South Africa has faced growing shortages of electrical power for months because of a lack of investment in new power plants in its booming economy.

Senior officials at Eskom began warning a decade ago that the government needed to invest in more power plants. But the government delayed while it debated whether to privatize part of the industry, a proposal that eventually was rejected.

The lack of supply became critical a few weeks ago when Eskom took several power plants off line for routine maintenance and several other units were shut down because of technical problems.

The South African economy has been growing at a rate of more than five percent per year. The government's goal was to reach six percent this year.

But the director of the Econometrix think tank, economist Azar Jammine, says that is no longer likely.

"The most devastating blow is what this proves is that there is a ceiling of approximately four percent annual growth to what the South African economy can achieve for next six to seven years," Jammine said. "And that is not as much as we would have hoped would have been achieved."

The government plans to invest some $40 billion in the construction of new plants. But these will only be operational in five years. The government also plans to reactivate older, decommissioned plants. But this will take several years to accomplish.