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Is South Africa experiencing a permacrisis of rolling blackouts?


Alan Winde is Western Cape Premier.

At a Western Cape cabinet meeting several months back the word ‘polycrisis’ was mentioned in passing. A polycrisis arises when various crises occur simultaneously and interact with one another.

In 2022 it has felt like the world is in a constant state of polycrisis: the climate crisis, the cost of living crisis, energy constraints and wars, to mention a few. Unsurprisingly – and purely coincidentally – “permacrisis” was named the Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022. It certainly feels as if our country is in a permacrisis, especially as we end the year with the fifth round of Stage 6 rolling blackouts and warnings that our energy woes will worsen dramatically in 2023 before there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

As I traversed the Western Cape this year, the power crisis was raised at almost every meeting I attended. Load shedding schedules have become as important to households as running water. I share the frustrations of Western Cape residents. And I am always asked: what is the Western Cape government doing to address this crisis? It is a fair question, and one we are engaging with urgency as the entire provincial government. One of the most important steps we have taken is to create a provincial energy council to help the provincial government coordinate our work and support for municipalities, individuals and businesses to navigate the energy crisis. 

While we are not responsible for the Eskom crisis, there is work we can do to create an enabling environment for businesses and support municipalities. 

As a provincial government we are finding remedies. In Mid-2022 when the country was pushed into Stage 6, my team and I immediately called a summit. Officials from across the board – from Eskom and municipalities to private sector role players and academics – put their heads together to plot a plan a way through this disaster. 

We have since taken some important steps to respond to the crisis. 

The provincial government’s Municipal Energy Resilience plan is one such intervention, aiming to support municipalities, and the private sector, to generate, procure and sell their own power. It presents an opportunity to incorporate innovative methodologies and delivery mechanisms as the Western Cape moves towards an energy-resilience future

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A few months ago I led a Western Cape government delegation to the UK and several European Union countries to seek further trade and investment opportunities. At almost every meeting, whether with a British, Belgian or German delegation, the energy crisis came up – but it was not just our power catastrophe I was asked about. Our European counterparts are also concerned about their own energy challenges, much of them brought on and exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war and the need to generate green energy. We are not alone when it comes to growing anxiety and frustration over electricity production.

I recently inked a critical deal with my Northern Cape counterpart, Zamani Saul, for our provinces to cooperate and collaborate, along with other partners such as Namibia, to develop a green hydrogen (GH2) corridor along our West Coast. GH2 offers us a solution to our energy woes as well as stimulating economic growth and job creation.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Humanitarian crisis looms in Karoo as Eskom institutes load reduction on top of rolling blackouts in defaulting municipalities

But all these efforts will, unfortunately, take time to take effect. When I ponder our energy woes, and how we give hope and support to our residents, I am reminded of a line from a Robert Frost poem: “He says the best way out is always through.” 

While the provincial government has extensive contingency plans in place should the country go to higher stages of rolling blackouts, we generally have little choice but to bite down hard and push through this mess. I empathise deeply with our residents and businesses who are trying to recover after the devastations of the Covid-19 pandemic. You have every right to be angry, but we need to dig deep to get through this. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John Smythe says:

    I wish one could estimate how many billions of Rands private individuals and businesses have spent on generators, inverters, UPS’s etc. And we can’t claim from the tax man. How many people are being fleeced by unscrupulous sellers of these products, and incompetence over installations and advice. E.g. advice to rather use gel deep cycle batteries or lithium. How long do they last? Cost to benefit ratios. How far can one discharge the battery before one damages it? 50% capacity? 90% capacity? Does voltage matter? What’s the best inverter to look out for? What kind of inverter to install (solar, trickle charging back onto the grid). I’ve just found out that my son’s gaming PC instantly drops if the transfer rate is more than 10ms. My inverter is 20ms. Bad advice from the dealer who assured me it would be fine (the box even has the picture of people gaming on it – ffs). Graphics card blown recently. R15000!! Can I claim from insurance? Probably not. A friend was off for so long during the Stage 8, that her inverter couldn’t last for long enough because it didn’t have enough time to fully recharge the batteries until the lights went out again. She’s 80 years old with no technical knowledge. How does she know what or how to manage her batteries? So, Premier, think implementing something that will give your constituency good advice from government (whether provincial or local). It will also put the “fleecers” on the backfoot. You can help us save money.

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