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‘People are broken’ — Daily Maverick readers describe toll rolling blackouts take on their health and businesses

‘People are broken’ — Daily Maverick readers describe toll rolling blackouts take on their health and businesses
Illustrative image | Sources: Protesters march on 25 January 2023 in Cape Town. South Africa faces another year of extensive load shedding according to Eskom. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Domestic appliances plugged into an electrical extension port. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | iStock

Readers around South Africa responded to our survey on how rolling blackouts are affecting them, with 71 highlighting how the constant power cuts have negatively affected their businesses and working lives.

Eskom plunged South Africa into Stage 6 load shedding again last week to prevent a collapse of the national grid after six generating units broke down. On Sunday, 5 February, the utility announced that power cuts would reduce to stages 3 and 4 from 5am on Monday.

A month into 2023, power cuts regularly leave South Africans in the dark. With annoying frequency, warnings of load shedding pop up on the Eskom Se Push app, reminding citizens to hastily plan for the coming darkness. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “South Africa’s power lifeline frays as Eskom scrambles for diesel

A recent Daily Maverick survey on how the rolling blackouts are affecting readers’ businesses and lives garnered 343 responses, with 161 respondents indicating their appliances had been damaged because of protracted load shedding. 

(Read previous responses from our readers about their rolling blackout experiences here and here.)

rolling blackouts

Many readers say their fridges, washing machines, microwave ovens, dishwashers and computers are no longer working because of fluctuations in the electricity supply caused by load shedding.

“During December, we had various problems with some of the appliances. Our washing machine and refrigerator packed up, but my two sons fixed [them],” said respondent Rudi le Roux.

Some readers said the blackouts had damaged their fridges to the extent that they were no longer able to stay cold.

Daily Maverick reader Lisa Key said her cooking school and restaurant in the Karoo were affected by rolling blackouts in the summer heat. “Fridges and freezers in [the] cooking school and restaurant are off for extended hours. Had to throw away produce.”

“Our microwave has stopped working, there is water coming out of our fridge and it stinks of rotting meat,” said another reader.

“Food has gone off more [times] than I can count… got food poisoning,” said a respondent.

Another Daily Maverick reader said all their Christmas leftovers which could be salvaged after their deep freeze defrosted, “were given to the dogs”.

Readers described having to spend money on preventive measures, including surge plugs, inverters, batteries or embedding their own generation facilities by installing solar panels.

(Maverick Life reporter Malibongwe Tyilo unpacks why surge plugs are important for appliances, here.)

Respondents with generators said buying fuel was affecting their finances.

The water also stops flowing

In Johannesburg and some areas in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, when the power goes, so does the water.

“Living in a rural setting, load shedding means no water [pumps], no lights, no fuel [pump] and no communication, including cell phone signal… farming operations that require the above just grind to a halt,” said Geraldene Arnold, who lives on a farm in the Eastern Cape.

Every sector of the economy has been hit hard by Eskom’s blackouts, which leave millions of customers and businesses without power. A handful of ceramic businesses told of the challenges of firing kilns and not meeting deadlines. Some businesses had to shut down. Owners of long-standing businesses in the printing, restaurant and laundry industries have described having no choice but to close their doors and let go of staff.

rolling blackouts

Running a business without power is “crippling”, said small-business owner Deborah Donnelly.

“It is simple to run internet, phones, wifi and computers, but we launder linen for the event industry and it is virtually impossible to do this with 50% [of] day and night shifts having no power. We were one of the worst hit industries during Covid, and now load shedding is making it impossible to deliver orders in time for events and weddings,” said Donnelly. 

When the power goes, traffic lights no longer function and traffic becomes gridlocked.

“We are in the service industry… Being stuck in traffic daily has reduced the amount of calls we can attend to… Travelling to meetings, to and from work has had a negative impact on our business — we have had to assist with setting up home offices for our staff members and acquire the necessary software to accommodate the continuous load shedding caused by the government’s non-performance,” said business owner Theo Cloete.

Read more in Daily Maverick:South Africans make a plan in the face of never-ending electricity blackouts” 

‘People are broken’

Many responses foregrounded the heavy toll high levels of rolling blackouts are taking on mental and emotional health. People are frustrated and despondent; adjusting to life in the dark has come with many costs.

Without power, streetlights go off, electric fences don’t work and many readers described feeling more vulnerable to crime.

“It’s so hard to be positive and optimistic when dealing with the constant onslaught of power outages. The roads have become the new Wild West without traffic signals, and the extreme levels of lawlessness, impatience, lack of consideration and naked aggression are frightening — especially for a single female driver,” said Jennifer Luiz, who lives in Randburg.

“Had to replace my house alarm battery three times now. Gate motor [is] not working which has impacted on my general safety at home,” said another respondent. Many say they are enduring depression and anxiety. 

One Daily Maverick reader noted feeling depressed and anxious over the festive season, because of the increased load shedding. Blackouts intensified in mid-November last year after Eskom ran out of money to buy diesel to run its emergency generation fleet. In the past few months, the power utility has been forced to rely increasingly on its open-cycle gas turbines — intended for emergencies — because of an increasing number of breakdowns within its tired power fleet.

“Everything has broken down. People are broken down psychologically due to the life impact of load shedding and its ramifications on the quality of life in general,” said another reader. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    We’re scrambling on a crumbling sandbank, slowly slipping into the vortex of certain economic doom. A Rubicon, of sorts. Diabolical, crooked, twisted, corrupt, uncaring. Faceless, Heartless. Self Serving. Hope’s killer. Rage, Rage, against the dying of the light, stand up, fight, for all that is right.
    Apologies: Dylan Thomas.

  • Brendon Bussy says:

    I’m the Design teacher at a special needs school for the Deaf. Arriving at school in a dark or potentially dark classroom means that I can’t depend on any of the teaching tools I’ve developed over the years. Visual aids such as video and slide shows are essential for getting signing Deaf learners through school up through matric. Not to speak of the internet; it’s essential to be able to pull up examples on the fly when clarity is necessary. The Western Cape Schools government internet connection has always been unreliable (another story), but with load shedding, the reboot can take more than an hour after power resumes. And my colleagues who teach sign language depend on video for exams (there is no accepted written form of sign language). As for the practical side of teaching Design, I now have two 1950s era hand crank Singer sewing machines in my classroom. They beautifully and wonderfully Eskom proof.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Break the ANC at the next election: vote, it doesn’t matter who for – but this government will destroy the country completely.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Voetsak ANC – vote for a party that can change all this no matter the colour of their skin.!

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    People want change, but they wont vote for it even if its on a platter !
    The ANC is incapable and corrupt to the core , I didnt say it but the Zondo commision said it !
    Vote DA its our only chance we are so close to being a failed state

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