Bright ideas emerge from darkness

2013-05-12 14:00

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We all know that old South African saying, ’n boer maak ’n plan.

This week, thousands of residents on Joburg’s West Rand proved that it applies to more than just Afrikaans speakers.

A sabotaged substation left the suburbs of Bergbron, Delarey, Florida Glen, Industria North, Maraisburg, Northcliff Extension 19, Whiteridge and Quellerina in the dark from Sunday night until Thursday afternoon.

It was a long, dark week, particularly for businesses that opted to keep their doors open.

Mother’s Day usually means big business in chocolates and cakes for Especially For You Home Industry and Gift Shop in Bergbron.

But this year, the shop has been quiet, except for the humming of a generator.

“People don’t know we are open because all the other shops are closed. So we are now afraid Mother’s Day is going to lose us money,” employee Marina Swart said on Thursday before power was restored.

Swart estimated that the shop lost between R2?000 and R3?000 each day during the power outage.

They also had to fork out R200 every day to buy petrol for the generator.

It wasn’t an entirely unsuccessful week though.

The shop’s daily home-cooked meals sold very well.

“People who are caught by the blackout come here to buy food. I even warm it up again for them so if they go home, the food will be warm enough to eat,” Swart said.

Anton Harmse, who manages Bergbron Spar, said the supermarket lost about 80% of its normal business this week.

It also lost its entire supply of ice cream.

“I think they’re scared to come here at night,” Harmse said of his customers.

“If you’re standing out there and you look down the street, it’s pitch black. It is quite scary.”

The store took extra security precautions during the power outage, and Harmse said there had been robberies in nearby houses every night while the lights were out.

“We sold about 400 candles in one night. Usually, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll sell 10 candles in one week.”

Florida Glen laundry service Pressed In Time is one of the few shops that stayed open during the power outage.

Employee Mcumisa Mbomvu said the generator was only strong enough to power one washing machine. She estimated the business was making between R400 and R500 a day instead of its usual R1?000.

The blackout brought out the entrepreneur in a number of people on the West Rand.

Jaco van Deventer works for a lawn mower shop in Krugersdorp. On Tuesday, he sold six generators, which he said was unusual.

He then spent Wednesday selling generators on a street corner in Florida Glen.

“We thought, ‘let’s come and stand here, maybe someone will purchase them instead of driving all the way over there (to Krugersdorp)’.”

Most businesses around the substation were closed this week.

The ATMs were out of service. Intersections were backed up with cars.

Joburg Metro police spokesperson Edna Mamonyane said there was congestion in the mornings because traffic lights did not function.

The massive power outage prompted furious residents to bombard radio stations, newspapers, social networks Facebook and Twitter with questions about City Power’s ability to keep the lights on as the winter season begins.

City Power spokesperson Louis Pieterse said the blackout was caused by an attempted cable theft at the substation, adding that two 33?000 voltage cables were tampered with in the early hours of Sunday.

This caused oil to drain from them.

To repair the situation, the oil in the cables must return to a normal level.

Pieterse said this was “unfortunately, not a quick process”.

He said the situation was worsened because two cables were tampered with.

Usually, one cable is enough to supply the entire area with electricity and the second acts as an alternate.

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