Electricity crisis: South Africa struggles to keep pace with load shedding

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Crisis of electricity: South Africa is struggling to cope with load shedding

Plan B: Mathabo Bekimbia-Tchoffo can count on a few hours of lighting during power cuts thanks to this type of bulb which recharges when there is power. Johannesburg, March 2, 2023.

Johannesburg, Soweto and Tembisa, South Africa – It's a race against time. Charge your computer and phone. Prepare meals. Or do the laundry. Many things to do before the power is interrupted during a scheduled load shedding. Welcome to the daily life of some 60 million South Africans.

Since the beginning of the year, power cuts have occurred every day. At this rate, the number of load shedding in 2023 could well beat last year's record.

Traffic lights, like here in Soweto, do not work during load shedding which has now taken place every day since the start of the year. These power outages, which are planned and called “load sheddings”, last several hours. The pace of load shedding has accelerated in 2022. Photo taken March 3, 2022.

If there is load shedding, it is because there is no there is not enough electricity for all South Africans. This crisis has been going on for years. We should never have come to this, indignant Wayne Duvenage, CEO of a civil action organization to fight against corruption (OUTA, or Organization Undoing Tax Abuse).

Like so many others in South Africa, he points out that several factors have led to this shortage. He points in particular to the poor maintenance of aging power plants, the small financial arrangements that favor the ruling party or poor management: the national electricity company, ESKOM, holder of the monopoly, is heavily indebted.

In South Africa, coal is king when it comes to electricity generation. Johannesburg, March 3, 2023.

“This situation is entirely man-made. And the fault lies with a poor government. There really is no other excuse for this crisis.

—Wayne Duvenage, CEO of Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA)

Johannesburg during a load shedding episode that does not affect all neighborhoods at the same time. In the background, the financial center of the metropolis surrounded by sectors plunged into darkness. Johannesburg, March 2, 2023.

The anti-corruption campaigner continues his momentum: It's going very badly. Businesses are simply struggling to operate. And when that happens, you lose your ability to attract more investors, you lose your skilled employees. The country is collapsing and it absolutely has to stop. South Africa was on a roll, with enough energy and motivation to push its economy forward. It's finish. We lost all that. And that doesn't bode well for maximizing all the potential, here, and for future generations.

You don't have to look long to find a trader who is in difficulty due to load shedding.

In a street in a Johannesburg neighborhood, Mozart, a barber, explains that he manages to get by thanks to the D system. a converter, with a battery. So as not to delay my business, he specifies.

Barber Mozart at work on March 1, 2023.

Magdalene has no this chance. She explains that her generator has given up the ghost. So when there is no electricity, she loses a lot of money with every passing minute.

Magdalene is busy cutting a key for a client. Johannesburg, March 1, 2023.

Same story with Richard. He sometimes throws meat away because he can't keep it cool during power cuts. And he has no plan B, for lack of means.

Richard, street vendor. Johannesburg, March 1, 2023.

Twilight in broad daylight in this restaurant in a popular district of Johannesburg. Diners continue to place their orders and servers take them. It is the habit of these power cuts and the assurance that the generators will soon restore power, a plan B which is far from being within reach of all South African budgets. Johannesburg, March 4, 2023.

No question of letting the thermometer climb in the cold room of the funeral home run by Fanyana Khumalo in Tembisa, near Johannesburg. He therefore bought a more powerful generator than the previous one. It is triggered automatically during power interruptions. But this generator is very greedy in diesel, and it is very expensive.

Fanyana Khumalo, company director of K2M funeral directors in Tembisa. Picture taken March 2, 2023.

The company is struggling to stay afloat and dip into its reserves to absorb its losses. No question, however, assures the director, of passing on the additional expenses to a clientele already affected by the bereavement of a loved one.

The generator that powers the K2M funeral home during power outages. Tembisa, March 2, 2023.

Faced with rising costs, several funeral directors are speeding up the holding of funerals or modifying embalming to better preserve the bodies.

The company of which Leon Human is technical director is also equipped with generators. But he fears losing market share due to delays caused by load shedding at his suppliers and at some distributors.

Leon Human (standing in the center of the photo) is the technical director of the Abracon company. Johannesburg, March 2, 2023.

In the Abracon factory, where nails, screws, fasteners of all kinds and safety barriers are manufactured, the hour of difficult choices may soon arrive, because power cuts have an impact on the turnover of the company. Johannesburg, March 2, 2023.

To add to this electricity crisis: South Africa's grid is regularly targeted by theft and vandalism when power is interrupted. This means that there is no shortage of opportunities in this period of daily load shedding across the country.

It is likely that a power surge, caused by the sabotage of a regulator, is at the origin of the fire which ravaged part of the Not Bread Alone bakery in Johannesburg a few days ago, according to initial findings.

Jimmy Hibbert, in front of part of his Not Bread Alone bakery that burned down. Johannesburg, March 1, 2023.

The owner is all the more sorry because he was betting on a good return to school this fall (which will begin shortly in the southern hemisphere), for example with conferences and other events for which it provides a catering service.

Many electricity substations are poorly or not at all secured in South Africa.

Squat in an electric post. Vandalism and theft are among several factors in South Africa's electricity crisis. Johannesburg, March 1, 2023.

One was looted last fall during a power outage. The thieves walked away with 18 copper wires that are worth their weight in gold, according to neighborhood councilwoman Nicole Van Dyk. She adds that because of this theft, the load shedding which was supposed to last two hours was lengthened to four hours without electricity for more than 100,000 residents.

A chain and padlock to secure the entrance to this power station to protect it from theft and vandalism, after it suffered looting in the fall of 2022. Windsor neighborhood, Johannesburg, March 1.

The councilor adds that the community has mobilized since this incident to make regular rounds with private security services.

Mathabo Békimbia-Tchoffo , a resident, says that everyone is united to protect what we can, in a humanitarian spirit, the spirit of "Ubuntu".

A single mother and member of the middle class, she is thinking of buying solar panels for her house to facilitate telecommuting and homework for the children. But, at the thought of going into debt and then possibly losing her job, she loses sleep.

Nicole Van Dyk, city councillor, and Mathabo Békimbia-Tchoffo, community director, in Johannesburg. March 1, 2023.

Anti-corruption activist Wayne Duvenage is also a civil rights activist. For him, the electricity crisis illustrates all that is wrong in South Africa. And he regrets that it is the poorest who suffer the most from the electricity crisis.

They retreat socially, trapped by the lack of access to electricity. You know, we live in the most unequal country in the world. More people are falling into poverty than emerging from it. With our young democracy, we should be much more advanced in repairing the evils of the past, he concludes.

Wayne Duvenage, civil rights activist, businessman and public speaker. As well as being the CEO of the South African anti-corruption civil action organization OUTA. Johannesburg, March 1, 2023.

Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, under pressure, declared a state of national disaster. He claimed that this gave him the means to help the population, especially farmers and traders, to overcome the electricity crisis. He also reiterated his promise to restructure the public electricity company Eskom.

However, many of them doubt that things are really changing.

This is the case of Lawrence Sithole, who we find on the Soweto Towers site, a former power station converted into a center of leisure in the immense agglomeration which had as a famous resident the former president and icon of the fight against apartheid, Nelson Mandela.

Lawrence Sithole, Site Manager Soweto Towers. Soweto, March 3, 2023.

There are no signs of a resolution coming soon. So you learn to live with it. You buy what you need, you make sure you are ready [for load shedding]. It's the new normal, he says.

The Soweto Towers, remnants of a coal-fired power plant and converted into a leisure centre. Between the two towers, visitors can go bungee jumping. During power outages, a generator activates the elevator shaft, the ramp of which can be seen on the left tower. Soweto, March 4, 2023.

Mathabo Békimbia-Tchoffo recognizes this, she is disappointed. Because she had been so optimistic, she had celebrated the arrival of democracy. But this party has been in power for more than 27 years. And the situation is only getting worse. Unemployment is high, interest rates keep rising. We are really stressed, she says.

The ruling party, the ANC (African National Congress), Nelson Mandela's historic formation, is disillusioning.

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