South Africa will maintain power rationing at its mines for now despite a drop in energy demand in the country following a reduction in output by smelters and some miners, a minister said on Friday.

South Africa's state-owned utility Eskom [ESCJ.UL] has said the shutdown of smelters due to a downturn in demand for metals owing to the credit crunch has caused power demand by the country's biggest users to tumble.

Eskom, which provides 95 percent of South Africa's power, has been rationing electricity since a near-collapse in the national grid last January forced mines and smelters to shut for five days costing billions of dollars.

The country's gold and platinum mines and some smelters have since then been receiving only about 90 to 95 percent of their power requirements.

We are not necessarily looking at giving more to the mining sector at this point, Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica told a news conference.

She said the reduction in consumption has eased the pressure on Eskom's spare electricity capacity, but this was still not enough to lift the rationing programme.

From January 25 last year, the mining industry was shut down for five days, the first total stoppage since in decades.

Eskom has said demand for power in December 2008 was down by 1,500 megawatts, equivalent to the output of a large coal-fired power station, compared to December 2007.

South Africa's Chamber of Mines, which represents mining houses, has demanded that other sectors should shoulder the burden of the power crisis equally, saying that the mining sector had so far borne the brunt of the rationing programme.

(Reporting bu Muchena Zigomo; editing by James Macharia and Peter Blackburn)

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