Planned blackouts have plunged South Africa into an electricity crisis

At the Monster Project Kitchen in Soweto, South Africa, staff prepare for blackouts every day by turning off the music and lights and preparing the gas stoves.

“The offloading is affecting us very badly,” said Fana Khumalo, who runs the restaurant along with several other businesses in Orlando East, which is part of South Africa’s largest city, Soweto.

The lights may be off, but crisis mode is definitely on in South Africa. Despite a state of national calamity and a new power minister, planned power outages, known as load shedding, are having a major impact on ordinary citizens.

The average American can be without power for about 7 hours a year, mostly due to major weather events such as hurricanes and blizzards. But for South Africans who have endured daily blackouts for the past four years, this is the norm.

Power outages occur on a planned, area-by-phase basis. For example, phase six draws 6,000 megawatts from the national grid, meaning the lights are off for about 9 hours a day. The government carried out load shedding by 43% of the previous year.

In mid-February, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster to respond to the electricity crisis, giving the government broader powers, such as relieving critical infrastructure from load shedding. It also allowed new power producers to circumvent environmental regulations and unlock additional financing.

They also created a new caretaker Ministry of Electricity headed by Kgozientsho “Sputla” Ramokgopa, a new minister with an engineering background. He hopes to end cargo shedding, he said, but warned South Africans to be patient.

“We serve our people”

People like Khumalo feel daily pressure. The kitchen is tucked away from a busy road and serves up to 100 people a day.

“In the case of traditional food, it should be prepared in the morning because it needs to be cooked for many hours,” he said.

One of their main dishes is cow’s heart, served with a thick, basic corn porridge, which is usually split and eaten with the hand.

“Pap and mogodo, pap and heart, liver and cow head. That’s what we do. We cook here, we serve our people, we sit, or you can cook.”

Khumalo said they were used to working on a schedule and would make it, but it was difficult.

“You lose customers because sometimes when they come in, there’s no spare gas,” he said. “So we’re losing money that way.”

Its businesses have also had to let staff go and deal with excess inventory. “We are eating the food, what should we do?” We either give it to the neighborhood orphans or share it with our friends.”

He feels the government is failing ordinary South Africans and small businesses. Khumalo said he worries about corruption and that too many people in power make decisions that only serve their own interests.

“You’re working at a break-even point just to keep the business going, just to think that maybe things will get better, the workload will end so we can get back to business as usual and serve people. that we have always given them.’

Of course, these problems didn’t happen overnight. Since 2007, there have been several months of increased loadshedding, often due to compromised or failing infrastructure.

Independent energy analyst Clyde Mallinson said that a few decades ago the country had a surplus of coal-fired electricity, partly based on apartheid-era sanctions.

“So what’s actually happened is that the coal fleet has deteriorated faster than they thought it would, and we haven’t produced a new generation at a rate that can take on the work that it does was the coal fleet.”

He said that the current working capacity of about 100 coal-fired power units is approaching about 40 units.

“So we’re really, really in deep trouble right now, we’re running out of time,” Mallinson said.

He warns that electricity inequality lies ahead.

“The economic engine of the country is small and medium business operations in all towns and cities. And they’re the ones who are bleeding right now because they don’t have power or they don’t have spare money,” he said, adding that the rest of the population has to bear the burden of “very expensive, very dirty electricity.” comes from a gasping, dying utility.”

The government’s current energy action plan includes new, renewable energy, more imported electricity and improved existing power plants. Different scenarios put the end of the load from a few months to a few years.

For now, the offloading continues, and with it the adaptation of South Africans.

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