The phenomenon of load shedding is a real threat to our economy. It threatens livelihood in the form of SME’s sector growth, employment rate, GDP, inflation, PPI etc. Without a reliable source of power supply, ability to run an efficient and profitable business is destroyed. How do you run a business profitably if your ability to produce is hampered by hours of power cuts that mean you and your staff can’t work? Hours that the business must pay for despite the zero production figure?
Herewith a fictional account of how small businesses and families are affected: A business man runs a small, profitable paper products manufacturing business. He employs 8 staff and works in a small, low rent industrial complex to contain costs. The complex does not have a generator and as such his business stops every time the power grid shuts him out. He pays staff for being idle, pays full rent and electricity bill (extravagant, at that), and full salaries. He makes zero production (read:profit) for 24 hours a week due to load shedding. He pays for those zero profit hours anyway. Suppose he can’t meet his rental for the month because he lost 96 hours of production that month…then he is shut off of his premises or his electricity meter is switched off by the same Eskom that failed him through their non-supply…he loses more days of productivity. So he takes a loan from the bank to keep businessgoing. Still, within a load shedding environment he can’t control. He tries to pass on the increase to his customers, they leave him for another supplier because his product is too expensive. Now his revenue is even smaller and his costs ever higher. What is he to do? He lays off a few of his staff to control costs; alas, too late. His creditors are hounding him and he still hasn’t got new customers. In fact all cost have risen due to the unprecedented petrol prices that have driven all prices of common goods up. He can’t win…he shuts the business doors to face liquidation which leaves him with debilitating debt.
He looks for a job…he has an MBA after all so maybe that secures him a decent job. The job market is tough, he is over-qualified and expensive in a market that is under duress. So he starts another business with a new loan…the cycle repeats.
Flowers on a grave. “Goodbye husband, father, brother and son. You fought the good fight”. His tombstone inscription. The wife moves with their three children back to her parents’ home in the ghetto. The children attend public schools with lawlessness and disorder, no private sessions with tutors. The culture shock is too much, they become wild and abuse substances to a point of failing to finish school.They find a NGO specializing in drug abuse and trauma…it is in someone’ s backyard who knows the deputy director of the department. There is nothing there for them. Their father’s tombstone gets stolen one day, mommy sinks into depression.She spends her days just listlessly lying there incoherent and oblivious. She needs care, but there is no one.
Little Zoe is roaming the streets in dirty clothes and can’t remember her own name. Pat is a prostitute on the side of the road filled with truck traffic, she charges a R100 per session under an hour.No one knows where the twins are. No one cares.
And so it was that a monopolistic, government entity that is plagued with corruption and fraud led to the demise of an entire family. Once doing well, the envy of their society. Now doomed forever.
I still wonder why they call it energy? I mean, I can understand in other parts of the world. When you have reliable power supply, it fills your time and your world with things to do. You can live, which is the “energy” of life; right? In South Africa we live in bursts and spurts; never sure of the ability of our grid to sustain our lives. In the rurals, well; those folks are strong! They live on wood fires and kerosene lamps and candle light. They are not even on the grid. Those rural folks that are on the grid, are worse off than the wood fire dependent types. They must have both electricity and stone age systems because their electricity supply is so unreliable it gets blown by a mild breeze…or washed off by a little drizzle. One minute the pot is cooking on the stove, the next your pot is half way cooked with a back-up plan swiftly required to cook the meal finished. Everyone knows that bogobe (mealie meal, porridge) does not handle that sort of interruption well at all…half cooked is just as good as inedible.
Here in the suburbs, we “think” we are better off. But no, we are actually in denial. Power supply is so bad that we can’t really count on it. We use all sorts of ways to mitigate the effects…gas stoves, braai stands, solar powered lights, candles and matches. We have every back up measure possible so we are ready for the inevitable next bout of load shedding. We play board games to pass the load shedding hours…Power banks are a lifeline! What are we ro do without a charged device? We kids can’t make a fire to braai, or remember to charge our phones. Our folks, on the other hand; are former rural types that know what to do to survive this thing. They are battle hardened and have the scars to prove it. Not so with us…they call us spoilt brats, the lost generation. We just get upset and “perform” for them when the lights are out and we don’t have solar lights charged up to do our homework. Homework on our laptops…if they are charged!
When we visit our grandparents in the ‘rurals’ we are grateful we don’t live here permanently. We would rather die! Our cousins there make it fun though, they make it all mysterious and ‘new’ to play hide and seek so we can enjoy the time spent there. Actually, they make load shedding seem normal. It is sooooo confusing! I mean, how can I have so much fun without TV, smartphone, tablet? Just playing outside like a bush child? But I secretly enjoy it, just don’t tell my parents please! In the suburbs, I need to have my rights observed in full. It is my life, not merely an opportunity for my parents to show me off to their parents. I am a real human with a need for power.
It is just incredibly sad to compare my unhappiness back home when there is a powercut to the fun I have in the rural areas. The people here have a real joei devivre that does not need power to stay on. Their basic way of life somehow has so much “energy” than what I can understand. My “soft life” amenities in the suburbs seem silly when I am here playing with real friends using ropes, bricks, tin cans and anything we can find. There is tremendous power in the powerlessness that a power outage brings.. the power of a resilient, innovative human creative force ro find ways to live happily.
The winter chills have arrived. An early and unwelcome change of season for many South Africans. As the cold weather and rains and even floods take over the country, we watch as an even more imposing enemy looms ever larger: load shedding.
For the unitiated in first world countries, load shedding is a phenomenon that a power utility employs in order to ration out access to electricity due to the power grid being under pressure. The power generation capacity is constrained, so the power company (Eskom in South Africa) restricts access by scheduling intrusive and obstructive planned power cuts per region so as to ease pressure on the grid.
This would be ok if it was aimed at residential areas only. It would be ok of it occurred once in a blue moon. Except in South Africa, it is our norm. We have been living like this since 2008 if memory serves me well, with the scale increasing unabated over the years to a point of economic threat. Indeed, load shedding(actually, Eskom…the ANC government even) is our single biggest commercial or economic risk. We are at the point where the risk is no longer a concern, but a grave spectre of imminent doom. It has become a question of not if, but when will South Africa finally collapse in the heap of another failed African state.
Youth unemployment is at an all time high of over 65%. Unemployment in general is at an all time high, with more employable people out of work than in. Following the Covid 19 pandemic, last year’s looting spree in KZN as well as the floods in KZN we have never been more vulnerable as a country. Our economy is held together by seemingly by luck as hugh commodity prices in recent times held the rand up.
I guess the truth is that we are in our worst hour as a country. It has been coming for the last 15 years plus…I have a feeling this beast is on its knees as we speak. Even as we hope in the new dawn; even as the rampant corruption is downplayed by politicians plating dirty party politics. Even as our opposition completely fails to take advantage and continue to allow themselves to play race politics that are far more divisive than than ever before.
The people are hungry, dealing with floods and hoping for a miracle to ease their trouble. In the mean time, the beast looks upwards to the heavens. He prays for more strength, more days…but how can he live without blood circulation when his heart is function is limited? Eskom is the heart of this economy; one that is busy fading even as the beast prays. Even as the leaders fail to put him on life support.
Good bye South Africa…cry the beloved country.
This blog is a conversation starter…difficult condos…interesting. The daring convos we don’t always find easy as a nation desperately holding on to a false and illusive sense of status quo. We are here to take each other on in an authentic and multi-sided diverse kind of rainbow nation we claim to be but remain far from. We are here for the truth and candidness. We are here to understand the past and present so we can truthfully inform the future. We are not here for likes.
New blog…long in the making. Verrryyyyy long! Being here at all is actually a daring act on its own. I was never sure this is what I wanted, yet I have always known it to be a type of self fulfilling prophecy. I was never getting out of it…it was simply always a matter of pushing it off as long as possible. We are here now, let carry on the purpose of our generation.
Ke imetswe – The issues men don’t admit openly.
By Leonard Tshepo Thipe
I know the stigma and drama.
I know the pain and the hardship.
I know the need to support others while loving myself.
I know the need to lead while I am not sure of the vision myself.
I know the criticism and laughter of naysayers,
Just as well as the praise and belief of supporters.
I know how far and how strong and how long.
I know the inner drive that pushes on relentlessly,
Yet I hear constantly the voice of self doubt and low self esteem.
I don’t talk about it…
I admit neither weakness nor doubt.
It’s all about the image of courage.
I must exude strength and confidence.
Yet the downward slide has been playing out all along.
No one looked.
Those that saw said it is a “release”.
“Everyone has their vice.”
But I am tired…I am finished.
Hear the words he doesn’t speak..
See the beyond the facade.
Men are also human; stop and engage them.
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