JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's government was scrambling on Monday to find money to buy diesel and avoid severe nationwide power cuts, after the country's power utility said it had run out funds for the fuel.

Minister for public enterprises Pravin Gordhan,held an urgent meeting with the board of state-owned energy firm Eskom on Sunday evening amid "serious concerns" over the situation, the ministry said in a statement.

"The (ministry) is urgently working with National Treasury and Eskom for it to find the money to buy supplies of diesel," the statement read.

Eskom on Monday said it has run out of funds to replenish diesel reserves for the financial year ending on March 31, 2023, raising the spectre of months of severe outages.

"The little stock we have is being preserved carefully for dire emergencies," spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha told AFP.

Scheduled blackouts, have burdened Africa's most industrialised economy for years with Eskom failing to keep pace with demand and maintain its ageing coal-power infrastructure.

The outages reached new extremes this year, forcing the cash-strapped firm to burn more diesel than it could afford to make up for supply shortages, according to Eskom's Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer.

"We do not have money to burn diesel anymore," Oberholzer said last week. The company has spent more than 12 billion rand ($690 million) on fuel so far this year.

Some municipalities were not paying for the electricity they consumed, adding to the firm's financial woes, he said.

Eskom is struggling  under a 400-billion-rand debt -- half of which the government has pledged to take on.

Blackouts are costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost output, disrupting commerce and industry.

They have also angered the population, with lights going off every day, several times a day, sometimes for a few hours.

In affluent neighbourhoods, outages are met by the hum of power generators but in poorer areas residents have little alternative but to wait in the dark.

On Monday the opposition Democratic Alliance  party called on the government to declare a "ring-fenced state of disaster" on the power utility "to allow for an emergency reprioritisation of resources", adding the grid faced a "real risk of collapse".

© Agence France-Presse