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South African Mines Seek to Resume Operations After Power Cuts

Mines in South Africa are beginning to ramp up production six days after most halted operations because of widespread shortages of electrical power. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg the state-owned electrical company says it hopes to restore 90 percent of power to the industry, but adds that rationing will be needed for months to come.

South Africa's major mines said they hoped to resume most operations by the end of the week when the state-owned electricity company, Eskom, said it would restore 90 percent of their power supplies.

The companies said they needed at least 90 percent of normal power to safely send their miners underground. Most of their power is used to ventilate and pump water from shafts up to four kilometers deep.

Officials at some mines said they would not resume production until next week.

South Africa's major gold, diamond and platinum mines suspended operations Friday after Eskom told them it could not guarantee adequate supplies of electricity.

The Chamber of Mines estimates $250 million was lost each day by mining companies, suppliers, workers and tax collection agencies.

The minister for Public Enterprises, Alec Erwin, told reporters that restoring power to the mines would mean sacrifices from other consumers.

"We need to go into a power rationing situation for the next four months, very intensive for the first four weeks and then reducing to a degree in the next four months,"said Erwin.

He said Eskom and the government would begin rationing electricity in order to avoid more emergency cuts.

South Africa had been experiencing power outages for months because of rising demand from its booming economy. But the shortfall reached the crisis level when several power plants were taken off-line for routine maintenance and others were shut down unexpectedly because of technical problems.

Economists say the power cuts have made next year's economic growth target of six percent unattainable. They say the power cuts mean the economy will grow at no more than four percent and could threaten job creation if they continue.

Neighboring countries have also experienced power outages as Eskom cut electricity exports in order to supply domestic consumers.