Power problems

2008-02-01 00:00

THE week before Christmas my computer crashed because of a power surge after load shedding. The week after New Year it happened again and destroyed the workings of the computer.

Thanks to the dedication of the specialists at Matrix Computers in Pietermaritzburg, most of my data was saved but the hardware went into the dustbin. My little company takes huge strain when this happens. How can any medium-sized company, like most farms, survive this nightmare?

Driving up to Swaziland again last week was both delightful and interesting. From Howick to Estcourt the veld is well grown and in full seed. The maize is excellent, apart from a few farmers who were caught short and did not plant timeously.

Further north, the sandy sourveld region around Dundee has also had good rains, but the soils are a bit wet and the veld looks leached. However, even further north, the Paulpietersburg farmers, who had terrible fires and frosts last winter, have recovered incredibly well with beautiful grass cover and the burnt trees are reshooting. Their maize is outstanding and a sight to be seen. Obviously the soils are good and the farmers are excellent managers.

On arrival in Swaziland it is a good idea to buy the Swazi Times for an update and also to have a good chuckle. It happened to be the day that the Swazis were informed that South Africa was going to impose load shedding on them as well.

Most Swazis could not really believe this was going to happen but, with 80% of their electricity coming from South Africa, it was inevitable. The panic in the media was reflected in the Times of January 24 and 25. The 40 headlines related to the effects of the electricity shortage give an idea of what we have recently faced in South Africa and what is coming to Swaziland.

They included: “Power may be rotated among various areas”; “Generators not enough in some hospitals”; “Get ready with gas”; “MTN network will be affected”; “Mortuaries do not have generators so funerals will have to be held during the week”; “ATMs will be affected”; “Swaziland may import power from Mozambique”; “Milk industry in the RSA losing 100 million Emalangeni a month”; “How to calculate the monthly cost of each household appliance”; “Electricity saving tips”; “Petrol stations in danger of power failures”; “20 000 could lose jobs in Swazi textile industry if electricity is rationed”; and “Traffic lights will be affected by power shortages”.

There are many hilarious stories behind these headlines, including “The government assures drivers that switching off the lights on the main highways will not be a problem because there are reflectors on the road”, and “The best way to repair car headlights is to replace the bulbs”.

Of greatest concern to the person in the street is the possibility of the Soccer World Cup being cancelled.

Everyone will be affected by the concerns illustrated in these headlines, including farmers. In reality, companies are affected more than the person in the street and any company dealing with perishable goods will be hurt more than others. Unfortunately, many farmers are in this position. Without continuous power supplies, meat, milk and vegetables will deteriorate.

It is not only Swaziland that is becoming extremely concerned by the possibility of power cuts but also most of the countries in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, who are all reliant on power from South Africa to a greater or smaller degree. Approximately half of the power to Namibia and Botswana was reported as coming from South Africa.

The shortage of electricity has certainly put a damper on what is turning out to be one of the best farming seasons in many years.

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817 or 082 880 9002, or by e-mail at agpaterson@satweb.co.za

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