South Africans struggle in the dark to cope with power cuts

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africans are struggling in the dark to cope with increasing power outages that have hit households and businesses across the country.

Continuous blackouts have been going on for years, but this week the country’s state-owned electricity company, Eskom, extended them, leaving some residents and businesses without power for more than 9 hours a day.

A strike by Eskom workers has added to the utility’s woes, including outages at its aging coal-fired power plants, insufficient generation capacity and corruption, experts say.

Prolonged power outages hit South Africans during the southern hemisphere’s winter months, when many households rely on electricity for heating, lighting and cooking.

Businesses big and small have had to shut down for long periods of time or expend large amounts of diesel fuel to run generators. Anger and frustration are widespread among business owners and customers during power outages, what Eskom calls load shedding.

Power outages are here to stay, say experts who warn it will take years to dramatically increase South Africa’s power generation capacity. South Africa mines coal and relies heavily on coal-fired power plants, which causes significant air pollution. The country is seeking to increase electricity production from solar energy and other renewable sources.

« The big picture is that we were expecting at least (heavy power outages) this winter, » said energy expert Hilton Trollip. « Eskom told us at the end of last year that there was a chronic electricity shortage… This means that until we have a substantial amount of additional generation on the grid, we will continue to run the risk of load shedding at any time. The question then is how bad will the load shedding be?”

He lamented the impact of power outages on the economy.

“The most direct economic consequence is when businesses have to shut down production because they don’t have power…whether you have a factory or a travel agency or a store,” Trollip said. “Anytime economic activity is disrupted because there is no electricity, it is a direct cost to the economy.”

Power cuts are costing South Africa well over $40 million a day and discouraging investment, economists say. South Africa’s economy, the most developed in Africa, is already in recession and suffers from an unemployment rate of 35%.

Small businesses in townships, suburbs and rural areas across the country are among the hardest hit by the effects of power outages, Trollip said.

Buhle Ndlovu, a kindergarten teacher in Johannesburg’s largest township, Soweto, said the power cuts had increased her costs of running the school.

“We welcome around 40 children here. We need to give them healthy meals daily,” Ndlovu said. “At the rate we charge, we can’t afford the extra costs of buying gas so we can cook. The load shedding really made it difficult for us.

She said it is a challenge to look after the children by candlelight until the parents pick up their children well after dark.

Some stores, however, are getting new business from power outages, such as Uri’s Power Center, which is seeing strong sales of generators, batteries and other back-up systems.

“I think people should definitely look to become less dependent on Eskom. I don’t believe the energy situation is going to resolve any time soon,” owner Adam Zimmerman said at his Randburg-area store. all aware of Eskom’s problems and people have different options, whether it’s investing in a generator to run their business or their home. »

On Friday, Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter told a press conference that the crisis was receiving serious attention and that he had personally briefed chairman Cyril Ramaphosa on what the company was doing to keep the lights on.

Mogomotsi Magome and Sebabatso Mosamo, The Associated Press


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