Defend Truth


Johannesburg residents get a foretaste of what national grid failure feels like

Johannesburg residents get a foretaste of what national grid failure feels like
Johannesburg residents protest against multiday power cuts. (Photos: Supplied)

City Power says the network is in a critical condition but not at a crisis level — a view not shared by its customers, who are suffering increasingly extended power cuts.

‘Twelve, 18, 36 and 41 hours — there’s nothing under 12 hours,” says Abdul Kader Amod of Roosevelt Park in Johannesburg, the suburb near Westpark Cemetery that lies to the northwest of the city. He’s detailing average power cuts in the area for all of 2023.

Last Friday and again on Monday, residents of affected areas took to the streets to protest against the multiday outages that have become standard for them this year.

“Over and above load shedding — either there’s a trip, a cable gets burnt, or it is cable theft,” he said, adding that it feels like stages 8 or 9 power cuts. So, on Friday, residents who don’t usually take to the front lines protested in the early morning Highveld cold.

“Hoot if you’re gatvol,” a poster asked of motorists travelling the busy arterial route of Beyers Naude. There was a lot of hooting. They were out protesting again on Monday, 5 June.

johannesburg grid failure

Johannesburg residents protest against multiday power cuts. (Photo: Supplied)

Multiday power cuts are now standard across Johannesburg’s north, east, west and southern suburbs and are the most burning issue with residents who contact Daily Maverick. City Power services 380,000 households and businesses out of a total of 1.4 million households in Johannesburg. Its grid needs a major overhaul that will cost tens of billions of rands, but decades of underinvestment and poor maintenance are coming home to roost.

City Power’s call centre logs 4,000 outages a day on average, says spokesperson Isaac Mangena, and its contractors are stretched.

“Our network is in a critical state, with the wear and tear increasing at a faster pace due to load shedding. We lose R3.6-million daily due to load shedding, most of it going to material needed, overtime for technicians, etcetera,” says Mangena.

johannesburg grid failure

Johannesburg residents protest against multiday power cuts. (Photo: Supplied)

“Our network is buckling under, with more plants going out of service due to the relentlessness of load shedding. We are sitting with over 500 plants out of service and it’s 50 under normal circumstances.”

Winter burn

In winter, the city of six million people feels the Highveld chill and turns on heaters. When demand increases, so do outages, says Mangena, who adds that City Power is not in crisis. It’s not a view shared by its customers suffering increasingly extended power cuts. If national grid failure planning is for four to seven days without power, many Johannesburg residents get practice runs.

The former mayoral committee member for infrastructure, the DA’s Michael Sun, says that only 30% of City Power’s estimated 68 substations can be switched on and off remotely to comply with Eskom’s cut-off schedule. For the remaining 70%, technicians have to battle through load-shedding traffic snarls to turn them on and off manually. The constant cuts cause further outages, equating to multiple fractal grid failures across the city.

Johannesburg residents protest against multiday power cuts. (Photo: Supplied)

Electricity protests are now so regular they hardly make the mass media, but are standard fare across social media. Soweto, Sandton and other significant pockets are Eskom clients and face similar issues. Grid failure is spoken of as an event, but Johannesburg shows it is a process. It’s not the fault of any one administration but of a more extended system failure that is the story of most infrastructure failing in South Africa.

Johannesburg was won and run by ANC governments from 1994 to 2016, when the DA took over, with a short stint since then by the ANC. Now Johannesburg is run by the tiny Al Jama-ah party as the ANC and EFF use the three major Gauteng cities as proxy negotiating fields for their 2024 alliance. The two Al Jama-ah candidates, Thapelo Amad and now Kabelo Gwamanda, are political entrepreneurs with few skills that modern executive mayors need to run complex developing country cities.

johannesburg grid failure

A resident holds a placard reading, ‘Electricity is not a political gamble…’ outside Maponya Mall, Soweto, on 21 June 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

This political experimentation with amateur politicians pushes Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni to micro-state failure quickly. The Johannesburg power crisis is one example; the deadly Hammankraal cholera outbreak is another. In December 2022, former mayor Mpho Phalatse asked for a load-shedding reprieve to help cope with the high number of outages.

Add contractor changes to the mix.

Last week, street WhatsApp groups (how citizens and residents now organise themselves and run their little local governments as governments fail them) were abuzz with messages that City Power had ditched all its contractors and things were about to worsen.

It seemed that way, with outages shooting up, but Mangena says that is not the case.

City Power has replaced outsourced contractors with 240 new technicians, taking the total to 400 with better skills, he says.

“Contractors are used for emergency work and as backup to internal resources. That has gone a long way in ensuring efficiency and reducing the exorbitant contractor costs. In 2021/22, we paid in excess of R800-million to the contractors,” says Mangena.

He says that by Monday morning (5 June), their outage calls had dropped from the 4,000 average to 3,000. Councillors say fewer contractors are on the ground than before the changes made on 1 June, but Mangena disputes this. He says City Power now works with eight major contractors, each of which subcontracts if needed, and it will add 65 new trained contractors “in a month or so”.

Sun said the overhaul of the contractor system was overdue: many old hands were challenging to manage and didn’t adhere to service standards.

Johannesburg residents protest against multiday power cuts. (Photo: Supplied)

“Some cable repairs would be done, but the trenches dug were shallow and it was easy for thieves to get to,” said Sun.

Johannesburg is the epicentre of cable theft, and its traffic lights often lie prone at the side of intersections, their bottoms sliced open to retrieve the copper wiring. As the power crisis deepened, some contractors started asking desperate people left in the dark to pay them a little something — a form of local government rent extraction now standard in South Africa’s corruption pandemic.

“Many residents stood on the right side (and refused to pay), but some people encouraged it by contributing to a pool to pay the contractors,” says Sun.

The rejig under way is to ensure a better standard, says Mangena, who adds that City Power’s data show that power cuts are not much higher this year than they were in 2021 and 2022.

Communities are managing by helping one another. In Roosevelt Park, for example, there are three nursing homes and it’s difficult for elders to get around when the lights go out. Some neighbours with generators have created a roster to rotate their generators on loan to the homes. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • neilred007 says:

    The politicians are hiding behind the loadshedding while in fact it is the incompetence and theft that have resulted in the backlog of maintenance. If only we had politicians who serve the community rather than politicians who are corrupted by power. We are all totally Gatvol

  • Miles Japhet says:

    City Power needs to check that sub-Contractors Actually do the work!
    Easy to either not do the job at all or do it in a way that requires another call out and payment.

  • dbanks976 says:

    I would like to know why the transformer boxes are easily accessible to theives. I have one in front of my house and every 3 weeks we have a theft. Someone has tried to secure it to no avail. Businesses are affected, not to mention the elderly and school students. Reporting the matter to the local councillor we are told work will be done soonest In 4 days. Secure the damn transformer box!

  • Robert Douglas says:

    “Is this what you voted for ?!” should be the wording on political posters facing grieved home dwellers battling to survive in their worsening third world conditions !
    “Is this what you voted for ?”

  • Ra Ma says:

    Sometimes it seems worse than anarchy. Here people are not even allowed to fend for themselves by building a local mini-grid. The very definition of a kakocracy.

  • peterj.brink says:

    Our power in Bryanston has now been out for nearly 3 weeks ! City Power have visited the site only 3 times so far but have still not started any repairs. Fault reports have been closed 5 times so far and counting. Does their left hand not know what the right hand is doing ? If this is not a crisis one has to wonder what is ??

  • William Kelly says:

    Coupla issues here. Firstly, sub contractors. Why are they needed? Remind me again what we pay for? If they are needed there is a gap that is not being addressed. Secondly, theft. What is the City doing about the number two cause of outages? Oh, right the muppet puppet mayor can’t add or subtract, but his mother says he is a good guy so that’s fine for what we need. Let us leave the Soweto non payment issue aside seeing as how it is too difficult for him to solve.
    I agree with Steenhuisen who seems to have grown a backbone (out of need). If this is what the voters want, then this is what they will get. Good and hard.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Every person who votes for the anc/eff or any other party similar in nature is committing treason! Its just staggering that these parties even have a say in modern society!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Evidence at last of citizens complaining about the status quo. Arise, Manzi! Do it again and louder.

  • Terri-Lee Dix says:

    There are two zones in Soweto that have been without any power at all since end June last year. Yes that’s almost a year! I haven’t seen this on the news. My employee who lives in one of the zones has a pay as you go. So definitely not an illegal connection. There have been protests, meetings etc but still no power.

  • Gavin Cromhout says:

    make copper sale illegal. The majority of theft is to on-sell. If you cannot sell it you won’t bother stealing it.

  • Bradley Welcome says:

    “Some neighbours with generators have created a roster to rotate their generators on loan to the home” and therein lies the only viable short term solution to SA’s ills. We need to take it fate in our own hands and support each other. Unfortunately, a government bail out for the citizens of South Africa is a forlorn and futile hope

  • pambeder says:

    ANC. That’s all o have to say!

  • Eyes Wide Shut says:

    One can only say two things:
    1. “Well done, ANC, EFF, flip-flop PA and that other wannabe puppet party”. While you were all playing political Olympics, you’ve dropped the ball”.
    2. And the people got what they voted for. This isn’t a surprise. They could surely have seen this coming. They’ve listened and voted for the loudest mouths who only know cheap politics, but they can’t even run a bath; never mind a city. It sounds cold and unfeeling, but, we all have to live with the decisions we make every day.

    • Bick Nee says:

      To your point 2. The problem lies with the coalitions. I very clearly, intentionally and deliberately voted DA in the last municipal elections, and they won! But they were ousted through bogus votes of no-confidence by the coalition parties. So now I have a dysfunctional municipality that I definitely did not vote for.

  • Eyes Wide Shut says:

    Instead of voting for the loud foolish clowns in the circus in 2024, vote for the people who can DO. The ANC CORRUPTS! The DA FIXES!

  • andrea96 says:

    ” It’s not the fault of any one administration but of a more extended system failure that is the story of most infrastructure failing in South Africa.”

    No. The system failure is the anc in power for 30 years. No country can survive that.

    • Geoff Woodruff says:

      You’re right, what is needed is some accountability from the previous administrations who should have been upgrading services decades ago. Those mayor’s and other beaurocrats are sitting happily at home, never having to work again with a pile of stolen money.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    “decades of underinvestment and poor maintenance”
    Infrastructures, SOEs, hospitals, the Mail, water purification plants, railway etc. etc.
    Whoever can name something run by the government that works will get a price.

    • P B M .. says:

      Easy to name something run by the government, Lisbeth: Corruption Incorporated. They have branches all over the country. And they open a new branch every time a new tender comes out.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    The ANC/EFF fools in charge have shown that they are really good at breaking and stealing things. Oh, and also at forming alliances to keep out competent and honest people. To those who voted them in, you have my utter contempt.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Ever heard of a copper thief being convicted? Me neither!

  • David Forbes says:

    Outsourcing is one of three major problems. It leads to shoddy work (to get called back again) and a don’t-care attitude. They also never use marked vehicles so complaining about them is impossible. Second problem is political will: the officials who should ensure service delivery are not doing their supervisory jobs properly, which means the sub-contractors can do as they please. Supply chain management is also not being done properly. The political will is to ensure they remain in charge, and get backhanders and privilege rather than being public SERVANTS. The third problem, of course, is the police. They are just useless, corrupt as hell, badly trained, and don’t observe the laws themselves. Until we effect a clean-out of the ENTIRE top echelon of SAPS, we are not even close to fixing the SAPS problem. We should not wait until the elections: we should be uniting the entire country to FORCE THE ANC TO RESIGN!

  • Terry Hodson says:

    I bet all the politicians have super duper solar installations in their homes.

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