South Africans struggle in the dark to cope with power cuts

South Africans are struggling in the dark to deal with the increasing power outages that have hit homes and businesses across the country.

It has experienced continuous blackouts for years, but this week the country’s state-owned electricity company Eskom extended those outages so that some residents and businesses were without power for more than 9 hours a day.

The Eskom workers’ strike has added to the facility’s problems, including the downtime of old coal-fired power plants, insufficient generation capacity and corruption, according to experts.

Prolonged power outages hit South Africans in the southern hemisphere winter months when many families rely on electricity for heating, light and cooking. Small and large businesses have had to shut down for long periods or spend large amounts of money on diesel fuel to run generators. Anger and frustration are widespread among business owners and customers over power outages, which Eskom describes as removing loads.

Experts who warn say the blackouts will last for years to dramatically increase South Africa’s power generation capacity. South Africa mines coal and relies heavily on coal-fired plants, which causes significant air pollution. The country is looking to increase energy production from solar energy and other renewable energy sources.

“The big picture is that we’ve been expecting at least[extreme blackouts]this winter,” energy expert Hilton Trulip said.

“Eskom told us at the end of last year that there is a chronic power shortage… What that means is that until we have a significant amount of additional generation on the grid, we will continue to run the risk of offloading at any point. The question then is how much damage is Will he have to get off the load?” He lamented the impact of the power outage on the economy.

“The direct economic consequences are when companies have to stop production because there is no electricity…whether you have a factory, a travel agency, or you have a shop,” Trollip said.

“When economic activity is disrupted by the lack of electricity, this is a direct cost to the economy.” Economists say the blackout is costing South Africa more than $40 million a day and hampering investment. South Africa’s economy, the most developed in Africa, is already in recession and suffers an unemployment rate of 35%.

Trollip said small businesses in the country’s towns, suburbs and rural areas are among the hardest hit by the effects of blackouts.

Pohl Ndlovu, a nursery teacher in Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest town, said the power outage increased the school’s running costs.

“We cater to about 40 children here. We need to feed them healthy meals daily,” Ndlovu said.

“At the rate we charge, we can’t afford extra to buy gas so we can cook. The Loadshedding has made it really difficult for us.” She said it was difficult to take care of the children by candlelight until the parents came to pick up their children after dark.

However, some stores are getting new business from outages, such as Uri’s Power Center which is seeing rapid sales of power generators, batteries and other backup systems.

“I think people should definitely look to become less dependent on Eskom. I don’t think the power situation will resolve itself any time soon,” said owner Adam Zimmermann at his Randburg-area shop.

“We are all familiar with the issues with Eskom and people have various options whether to invest in a generator to power their business or their home.” On Friday, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter said at a press conference that the crisis was receiving serious attention and that he had personally briefed President Cyril Ramaphosa on what the company was doing to keep the lights on.

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