"South Africa on Monday introduced its most severe electricity rationing in nearly five years, presenting President Cyril Ramaphosa with a major political challenge just months ahead of a May general election.

The debt-laden state power utility Eskom is at the centre of the country's economic troubles and has been hit by allegations of government graft.

Ramaphosa who last week admitted that Eskom was in crisis, on Monday expressed anger at the intense power outages. Offices, shops, factories, traffic lights and private homes were hit on Monday by "load-shedding" -- scheduled power cuts to reduce usage. The cuts were categorised as "stage 4", the highest severity level since March 2014.

"The power system is severely constrained, which is why after a long time we have had to implement stage 4 of load shedding," Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said. "Since this morning we have unexpectedly lost six additional generating units which have put additional strain on the system," the company said in a statement.

In a interview with state journalists at the end of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Monday, Ramaphosa said the sudden severe power cuts had come as a "shock". "That is most worrying, most disturbing, and it comes as a shock," he said.

"It has shocked me and also made me quite angry that we have reached this stage of dysfunctionality," he said. - 'Shocking, most disturbing' - Ramaphosa last week vowed to fight mismanagement and corruption at the utility, which has 419 billion rand ($30 billion) debt, by dividing it into generation, transmission and distribution divisions.

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