How to ... live in the dark

2014-12-07 15:00

Brace yourselves – you are going to be living in the dark for at least the next two years.


Nothing gets your day off to a bad start like a power cut that leaves all the traffic lights on your way to work on the blink.

eThekwini municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa has some advice to make the commute easier, no matter where in the country you’re dealing with flashing traffic lights.

According to Mthethwa, it’s important to monitor Eskom’s load shedding schedules so you know what to expect.

“Making use of the schedules – which we publicise via radio and other media when we are given them by Eskom – is critical to allow people to make contingency plans.

“It’s important to try and work around the load shedding flow,” he says.

Mthethwa says commuters should:

»?Give themselves up to an hour of additional travelling time every day;

»?Treat every malfunctioning traffic light as a four-way stop (for those who haven’t got the hang of it yet, that means giving right of way to whoever arrives first);

»?Plan their routes to and from work to avoid the blackout time;

»?Avoid the city centre and other congested commercial areas during load shedding hours; and,

»?Travel outside of peak hour times when possible.


When the lights go out, it’s important you know whether your local hospital or clinic is able to care for you. All private and public hospitals in South Africa are supposed to have working generators on site.

These are expected to kick in whenever there is a power failure. Unfortunately, not all do, and some hospitals postpone scheduled operations when the power cuts.

If you have a scheduled operation – one that isn’t an emergency and has been booked in advance – check with the hospital whether it can go ahead as planned.

You might have to reschedule if your hospital is one of those without a generator.

Emergency operations – trauma procedures and Caesareans, for example – are never postponed unless a patient in a more critical condition arrives before you and is taken into theatre.

If load shedding happens during an operation and the generator doesn’t kick in, most doctors will finish their work using whatever is available.

Even if your ill health doesn’t require a hospital, it’s important to be prepared for blackouts at home.

Keep your first aid material close at hand – plenty of household accidents happen in the dark and you’ll want to be able to clean and bandage yourself as quickly as possible.

Asthmatics should make sure they keep their nebulisers charged and anyone who uses oxygen should keep a backup oxygen tank so they can keep breathing easily even when everything goes dark.


Tony Botes, the secretary of the Security Association of SA, says there are several ways for businesses, individuals and people living in complexes to deal with security issues when there’s a blackout. Here’s what Botes suggests:


»?Ensure there is sufficient alternative (and safe) illumination like torches, lanterns and batteries.

»?Install solar-powered security lighting, operating on a proximity sensor, preferably with a link to an audio alarm inside the home.

»?Check alarm battery. If necessary, replace and purchase a spare or two.


»?Ensure there is a load shedding contingency plan with the security company.

»?Ensure security personnel have sufficient batteries (for torches and radio equipment).

»?Ensure the guardhouse, perimeter lighting, electric fencing and alarm system have sufficient backup power (solar/generator/UPS systems).

»?Check alarm battery. If necessary, replace and purchase a spare or two.

»?If access gate is motorised, have good chain and padlock available to secure gate during power outages, as some systems default to open if not connected to power.

»?Replenish batteries and gas cylinders regularly.


»?A combination of the advice given to residences and businesses, but with an emphasis on common property installations like electric fencing, security lighting, motorised gates and internal lighting.

Nothing will kill your festive mood like all the food in your fridge going bad due to a power cut. There are a few ways to make sure you save money and don’t have to throw away food before its due date.

For starters, increase the number of nonperishables and dry foods you buy at the grocery store. That means canned food and dried fruit and bread, for example.

Don’t keep anxiously opening your fridge to check whether the light have come back on while you weren’t paying attention. That will help keep your cold foods fresh for longer.

If you can’t imagine life without your morning cup of tea or coffee, boil water and keep it in a large flask so nobody has to deal with your caffeine-deprived bad mood. This is also important for those families who are trying to keep a baby happy and fed during power cuts. With a flask of hot water at hand, you can heat baby bottles easily.

Keep an eye on your area’s load shedding schedules so you know in advance about extended outages. If you’re expecting to be in the dark for hours, cook any perishable food you have in the fridge and freeze it. Freezers usually stay cold for at least 24 hours so your food has a better chance of surviving.

And, of course, there’s always the good old South African standby: a torch and a good braai.

Here are the best and worst case scenarios as ‘rolling blackouts’ become a daily occurrence

Best case

Eskom management applies its mind to planning and logistics, and stops running out of water, diesel and good explanations

To do this, it will need to increase the level and frequency of power cuts. EE Publishers editor Chris Yelland says Eskom wants to keep unplanned outages due to lack of maintenance no worse than they are at the moment. It can only do this by increasing planned outages for maintenance to fix things properly – or switch off more to do its work better so there is less chance of switching off. This means more power cuts, and these will probably last at least two years, but if Eskom sticks to the plan, it will be beneficial in the long term.

Eskom commits resources to fast track the long-delayed Medupi and Kusile power stations

It needs to synchronise the first unit at Medupi some time later this month and start generating power within six months. This is possible but unlikely because construction on Medupi began in 2007, with the finishing date already lapsed. Optimistic forecasts indicate it will be finished in 2018. The commissioning of the Medupi and Kusile power stations, in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, respectively, is the only thing that can get South Africa out of this crisis. It is not the best case; it’s merely a case.

Eskom stops making promises that come to nought

Just this week, after load shedding last weekend, Eskom said it had rebuilt supplies of diesel and water, and no further load shedding was expected during the course of the week. The power utility keeps telling us there is no crisis and that construction is on time. Then it just changes the story.

Government figures out a plan, that won’t bankrupt the country, to fund ­Eskom

Government recently gave Eskom a guarantee for R20?billion. Eskom needs at least another R200?billion in the short term. This will require difficult decisions on issues like massive increases in electricity prices, privatisation or sale of assets. Government must also facilitate the rapid development of independent power producers and renewable energy projects to ease the pain.

Worst case

Unplanned outages like we experienced this week continue to get worse and the power grid gets increasingly unstable

Working and living become increasingly difficult – from commuting in traffic to operating a business. If Eskom continues maintenance and planning at current levels, this is the likely outcome as unplanned outages are increasing, silos are collapsing, technical issues are worsening and Eskom seems unable to source ­ basic materials.

Companies are forced to close down because they lose too much money during power cuts

Big companies have, for some years now, delayed or canned investments due to unreliable power supply. Small companies, already under huge pressure due to the sluggish economy, might close down and unemployment rates will continue to increase.

Eskom and SA get downgraded further

Ratings agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, downgrade Eskom and the country further, thus terminating their ability to borrow money to build power stations.

Building at Medupi and Kusile grinds on slowly

Even if the two coal-fired power stations are completed by 2020, the extra 25% capacity these stations bring online will be less than the country requires.

December is usually a quiet month and Friday is usually a quiet day

Considering this, the stage 3 power cuts on a Friday in December, as experienced this week, are a bad sign, says Yelland. When demand for electricity picks up next month, we might face an even bigger crisis than we do now.

– Marcia Klein

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