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Kneecapped – How power cuts shed jobs, life, your mental health

Kneecapped – How power cuts shed jobs, life, your mental health

Things have grown much worse for ordinary South Africans, according to the numbers that tell the economic story as well as the heartbreaking stories behind those stats.

Dear friends,

It was heartbreaking to read your stories about the impacts of escalated-stage power cuts on your life. This week, we are about to hit the ignominious record of 100 straight days of power cuts, usually at higher stages. Eskom has been hitting us with load shedding for 15 years now but this is the longest stretch of continual rotational cuts – our new normal.  

We’ve read many impact study reports, but they usually concern the macro-economic impact: the numbers that tell the economic story. Your testimonies, read together, tell the human story.  

What is immediately striking is that things are much, much worse than the last time we asked. A briefing note by Meridian Economics has found that load shedding was four times higher in 2022 than in 2021, and the trajectory for 2023 is even worse.

Then, rolling blackouts were an irritation, but are now causing a major dislocation in your lives, work, businesses, your personal economies and, most painfully, your mental health. All of you have reported damages and losses of some kind – the most common is that appliances have fried and huge amounts of food have had to be thrown out. Gate motors and alarm systems have also blown and there has been an increase in home invasions, robberies and burglaries at your homes and businesses.  

The impacts on your work and businesses is severe, mirroring the impacts on small and medium-sized businesses. Higher stages of load shedding often mean that inverters or batteries can’t get through the entire power cut, so productivity goes down. Many of you have lost business, lost deals and either lost jobs or had to retrench people as power cuts roil through our country. Those of you in services or with contracts with companies abroad say that global clients are increasingly wary of South Africa’s on again, off again power, and jobs or contracts are becoming harder and harder to find. Teachers tell us how impossible it is to teach in hot-as-hell classrooms when teaching aids can’t be powered. Farmers can’t keep lands irrigated. Academics are losing out on teaching and research time. The list is endless. You are angry with the government, as you should be. Many of you are on to second or third battery back-up systems. 

A few respondents said they had escaped the grid with solar systems installed at often great cost, but this is still a small part of our sample of readers showing the barriers to entry are still high. We are so very sad to have read your stories and are thinking through how we can help. Of course, we will tell your stories and hope you will help us with pictures, permissions and perhaps even writing it up for us to publish. Would you like webinars on how to cope, the best solar leasing options, getting political leaders to answer your questions? There is a general election next year. Would you like to know the energy policies of different parties so you can decide who to vote for?

We would like to know how best we can help, so please do write to us by responding to this email? In the meantime, Victoria O’Regan has written up some of your responses here.

This article on surge protection was very helpful to us and we hope it will be for you too. And we have sent you this article before, but Sukasha Singh’s primer on how she installed a solar system is a must-read if you’re thinking of tapping the sun as a way to escape Eskom.

I (Ferial) have been reporting on the latest electricity crisis quite closely since the start of the year. And what I can tell you is that the government and the Eskom board are like chickens running around with their heads cut off. No coherent response is forthcoming, with various ministers measuring the end of the crisis on very different time scales. 

The Eskom board is new and has met hundreds of times since it was appointed in October 2022. A briefing I attended last week showed that, despite this, there is no clarity on the national grid and what it will do this year. Mthetho Nyati, the brilliant former CEO of Altron who now owns an investment company and is on the Eskom board, has the bones of a plan in place. It depends on Koeberg coming back into full operation (one of its units is on maintenance) and on a fix to three Kusile units which are down after a chimney duct collapse.

The President has his point man, Rudi Dicks, calling up line ministers to make sure they are doing all they can to make good on this plan.

We sincerely hope it works but the only certainty is there will be high stage load shedding for the rest of this year. If you live in Cape Town, mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has the best plan I have seen to bring relief to residents. If you live elsewhere, life will be tougher in 2023, but we will do all we can to amplify your voices and assist where we are able to. 

One of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans is to declare a ring-fenced National State of Disaster to deal with the electricity crisis. We asked you what we thought and most of you think this is a very bad idea.  

Pierre de Vos explains why the National State of Disaster is a Band-Aid response to a crisis.

We guess this got your thumbs down because government overreached when it declared a National State of Disaster to deal with Covid and impinged on areas of freedom that meant nothing for a public health response to a pandemic.  Also, corrupt civil servants and tenderpreneuers saw it as a feeding bonanza and chomped their way through billions of rands in contracts. Here is a reminder by Mark Heywood of how that eat-fest happened.

We hold our breath for Thursday evening, when Ramaphosa will no doubt outline yet another plan of action to solve the energy crisis in his annual State of the Nation Address. 

And while you pull your hair out at yet another bout of load shedding and another service delivery failure, we invite you to have your say in helping Daily Maverick draw up a dream Cabinet for Ramaphosa to consider. Make your selection here – who should stay, who should go and new blood to steer the country in the right direction. DM

For a little break and some uplifting news, enjoy our monthly round-up

This month we applauded these young ambassadors inspiring Masiphumelele’s children to eat healthier. 

Otherwise, we took inspiration from Lavender Hill High School matriculants’ wealth of success stories in the form of second chances, increased attendance and adversities overcome.

We appreciate the motivational words of wisdom from Sanele Gamede, who tells his personal story of triumph to encourage matric pupils who failed or are disappointed with their results to give themselves a second chance.  

And we found it incredibly helpful how Daily Maverick Food Editor Tony Jackman gives us the lowdown on how he beats the load shedding blues and how and what to cook when the lights go out.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Antonie Meyer says:

    Some ideas:
    Most immediate impact – social behavioral change campaigns.
    Nationwide appeal to the public to stagger geyser turn-on times (for those who still use grid-powered geysers). Base this on surnames, first names, whatever works – ask a statistician for something with a nice distribution.
    Ask people again to use electricity sparingly. Keep bottles filled with water as placeholders in the fridges and freezers (almost filled). Etc.

    Medium term
    Poll how many private solar PV owners (& owners-to-be) would be willing to max. out their roof space with extra panels for increased generation, if a decent payback was offered. (Ask a statistician to analyse and extrapolate the poll numbers, for relevance.) Implement.
    Identify low energy use per revenue (per employee?) businesses and exempt them from load shedding. Also, exempt communication (cellphones, internet), water & food & security businesses from load-shedding. Just keep the ball rolling “ffs”.
    Nationwide implementation of lay traffic pointers at busy intersections.
    Exempt communal kitchens and ablutions with heat recovery systems.

    Long term
    Accountability and consequence on all levels of government.
    Investigate alternative energy storage tech (dams, sand (heat), flywheels, etc.) on private residential, neighbourhood, municipal & provincial level to even out the energy use humps. Implement.
    Massive investment in renewables.
    Nuclear? Only with severe competence.
    Divert coal to chemicals (instead of energy). Ask Sasol.

  • S B says:

    I like the format of this piece and the various links to other stories, Ferial et al.

    This super presidency seems to be the only way to deal with the crisis while keeping the incompetents at the political debt/ payronage trough happy.

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