South Africa’s electricity crisis

Woo. “Crisis”. There’s a strong word. But yes, that’s what it is.

It’s a complicated story, but it boils down to this: years of poor planning and underfunding, coupled with a healthily growing economy simply means that there isn’t enough electricity to go around. And therefore, in order to protect the national grid from damage through supplying electricity that’s not there and being hopelessly overloaded, Eskom, the national electricity supplier, has introduced load-shedding. This is a system whereby, when demand exceeds supply, they cut power to areas of the country so that the remaining areas can get on with life.

You can see the issues. Industries are in the middle of production runs, businesses are working on computers, residents are cooking dinner. And then – click. All is calm, all is bright. Apart from the bright bit, obviously. 
And you’re taken back to a previous time, before electricity had been harnessed and controlled. A wonderful age, with steam trains, gas-lamps and cheeky schoolboys playing with sticks and hoops and running across cobbled streets in front of horse-drawn carriages. Quaint, but actually bloody annoying.

There are upsides. Generator and candle sales have never been better. But they are the exception in this sorry tale. Businesses can’t cope, they’re losing money hand over fist. Householders complain, but except for the odd case*, it’s actually just an inconvenience. A culture of blame ensues – letters to the local press name and shame electricity wasting buildings and lament the fact that streetlights are left on during the day. Misinformation abounds. Eskom is a laughing stock and it just wouldn’t be South Africa if there was no racial issue in there somewhere:

We always had enough electricity when the whites were in power!

Yes. Of course you did. That’s because outside investment in the country was virtually nil and the economy was held together with duct tape and a weekly prayer to the bloke upstairs.

There is an even darker side to this though (no pun intended). The past participle issue.
How do you describe, when complaining to your drinking buddies, the local paper or anyone who is still bothering to listen to your incessant and pointless whining, what happened when your power was cut yesterday afternoon? Were you load-shedded? Or load-shod?

I shouldn’t laugh, but it is funny when people are moaning. I understand their frustrations, but they start inventing new words. They think I’m making fun of their plight and slap me, which does temporarily halt my mirth, but only until their next use of “load-shod”.
“Load-shod” just sounds funny, while “load-shedded” is clumsy and doesn’t work.

But it’s ok – I can help you out. If you want to avoid these amusing or difficult phrases, just don’t tell me about it.
It’s symbiotic. You don’t get your tongue twisted, I get a nice peaceful morning in the dark. Lovely.

Look – I’m not saying that these power cuts are a good thing.
They aren’t. Power cuts are a bad thing.
Nor am I saying that you don’t have a right to be annoyed, irritated, frustrated.
Of course you do. It’s annoying, irritating and frustrating.
I think that what I’m saying is that since there is no light at the end of the tunnel – literally, it seems – just stop moaning – how does that help? Be a bit more proactive. Work around it as best you can. You’ll live. Really**.  

And never – never – use the word “load-shod” in front of me and expect me not to giggle.

* Standard hysterical over-exaggeration: “What about all those people on life-support systems at home?!?!?!”
** Terms and conditions apply. Like not being on a life-support system at home.

23 thoughts on “South Africa’s electricity crisis

  1. I love funny invented words, that really is a gem.

    Now, interesting thing, if everyone stops complaining then there’ll be no incentive for them to sort the problem out right since they’ll assume everyones happy. So maybe, loads of people should keep complaining but stay the hell away from us when they do?

  2. My turn to piss on your parade, 6k –

    People do get life support at home. I know first hand 😛

    I love your attitude towards being load shod, though. I rolled my eyes when I saw yet another post about the topic, but you made yours fun and readworthy.

  3. Koosh – Clarification – I love it. Yes. Stop moaning NEAR ME. 🙂

    SheBee – Life support at home = a beer fridge? Seriously though, wherever I was in the world, if my life depended on life support, in turn depending on electricity, I’d buy me a generator. Like the one I’m getting for my beer fridge.

  4. No, really. My daughter relied on oxygen throughout her life span, and I treated her at home once I’d had enough of hospitals.

    Eskom once cut us off without warning, and the generator wouldn’t work. Thank god I had plans a, b & c and oxygen tanks sufficed until I got her admited into a hospital.

    Thats the only thing I complain about. The load shedding schedules aren’t accurate, so although you are expecting it to happen, you never know when.

  5. SheBee – Like I said – you need to plan for these things should you find yourself in those situations. But you raise another interesting point – the new moan now that the acceptance that it’s going to happen, is the unpredictability of it all. I’m not sure there’s a easy way around that though.

  6. Now Capetonians have yet another excuse to hit the beach.

    I like loadshod. Quit your laughter.

  7. The only solution is to migrate to the First World if you can. Power outages aren’t the only adverse things we’ll have to deal with in future. Next will be water reticulation followed by other “nice” surprises we can’t begin to conceive of as yet. The sticky-fingered singer-and-dancer brigade have the final say, and they’ll blame everyone and everything but themselves as the country slides inexorably down the slippery slope.

  8. Joburger – Sorry. I missed your comment. I was on the beach.

    Kemptonian – Did you read any of what I wrote? If you must moan, don’t do it here. Don’t do it anywhere near me. In fact, rather don’t do it at all. You’re a pessimist and idiot of the highest order.

  9. As long as the beers stay cold & the weed is plenty, us Souties in Cape Town will survive. Its still 6000 times better than living in the UK.

  10. Guy – Thanks for the comment. I’m sure you’ll believe me about the zebras. I see them every night, you see?

    Love the idea of your hug-an-SA-blog.

    Sadly, I can’t give you a password, since, believe it or not, there is legal action pending both here and in the UK over that post and the comments which followed.

  11. SheBee – Deadly.

    Darthfarter – There was some “behind the scenes” unpleasantry too.

    Slack – How dare you? I’m not mean. I’m objective and honest.

  12. Load shedding gives me the perfect opportunity to light up the candles, bring out the wine and cuddle up to my sweetie.

  13. So, exactly what caused the electricity crisis, in South Africa?

    We, who live through this horrendous example of total incompetence, know.

    However, history will hide the facts and private enterprise will be blamed again. Just another example of how the altruists plot, plan and cover-up!


    Electricity Crisis

    After unsuccessful attempts by the government to encourage private construction of electricity generation capacity, in 2007 the state-owned electricity supplier (Eskom) started experiencing a lack of capacity in the electrical generating and reticulation infrastructure.

    This led to an inability to meet the routine demands of industry and consumers, resulting in countrywide rolling blackouts.

    Initially the lack of capacity was triggered by a failure at Koeberg nuclear power station, but since then a general lack of capacity became evident.

    The supplier has been widely criticised for failing to adequately plan for and construct sufficient electrical generating capacity.


    Published: 11/29/2005
    Electricity crisis looms

    Andrew Kenny

    A CRISIS in electricity supply, which was completely avoidable, is upon us.

    South Africa has run out of power stations to meet growing demand and we can look forward to more electricity cuts.


    Mbeki: There is no electricity crisis

    Mariette le Roux | Parliament

    30 March 2006

    Recent electricity failures posed no crisis but an opportunity for economic growth through infrastructure expansion, President Thabo Mbeki said on Thursday. There was no reason for investors to worry, he told the National Assembly.

    “We shouldn’t frighten ourselves too much,” Mbeki said in response to parliamentary questions. “Yes, indeed, there was a problem. There were regrettable losses suffered by many businesses, but there is no crisis.

    “Whatever needs to be done to make sure that the economy grows and new investors come into the economy is being done on the energy and other sides.”

    Enough power was available to meet the country’s needs, and work was being done to expand that, Mbeki said.

    “We shouldn’t be holding out as threats to local and foreign investors that something disastrous is going to happen with regard to energy and therefore … they must be on their toes,” the president said. [ ]

    “There are challenges … which are being worked on.”

    Projected capital expenditure of R84-billion by Eskom should boost the economy and sustain the government’s coveted 6% growth rate.

    Mbeki said the country had about 37 000MW of electricity available nationally, with an additional 2 000MW for high-peak periods. Projected demand was about 35 000MW.

    The situation was “tighter than we would have preferred”, but manageable. Approved projects would add 7 260MW in the next few years, and planned projects a further 10 382MW.

    Asked if he would set up a commission to probe the government’s “failure to meet South Africa’s national electricity capacity needs”, the president said this would serve no useful purpose.

  14. Tom – “Tom Morrow, Tom Morrow, I love you, Tom Morrow, It’s only a day away!!!!!”


    Tom, thanks for your views. All very interesting. SO – do you think that setting up a comission to find out what went wrong would help, or have you decided already?

  15. Surely the inability of the government to supply enough electricity to the whole of South Africa is posing a major problem.

    How does this impact our economy and is the government still supplying electricity to neighbouring provinces? electricity that we dont have ourselves..

  16. …Electricity is a major thing we need in our lives and it seems that we been controlled by it…. Everything in nowadays is about electricity, so by saving electricity we can go further….but an only thing that is killing our suppliers is the steals of cables and power…. I say lets save our electricity to have a brighter future because it makes life to be easier….I thank you….

  17. I think as we are the South Africans we can have people who we can teach I mean allowing kids to enter in feild of science so may by doing so we can get new soulution on generating eletricity having our own supplys

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