Power misplaced in powerless city

2013-09-08 14:00

Here at City Press we have been without electricity for three days. Your powerless City Press. Despite having a backup generator, there are still large inconveniences when trying to run a paper through a blackout.

Yes, we know well that, officially, 15% of South African formal households don’t even have electricity, so power cuts can feel like a middle class issue.

But let’s consider why the cuts besetting Joburg are a black spot. For one, the city is still the country’s economic heartbeat. Gauteng is small, but Joburg contributes a disproportionate amount to the national gross domestic product. It is also at the heart of a prosperous and growing transport and retail link to the rest of the continent.

You simply can’t have power going out – impacting on transport, traffic and enterprise – as it did this week. There are also human impacts on health and wellbeing to consider.

City Power, which runs electricity generation, is still a shambolic agency, despite years of expensive fixits. We don’t have enough electricians and engineers so we work those few we do have to the bone. Remuneration is ballooned by overtime and shift work – the changes to which sparked this week’s action.

Did the workers flip the switches and plunge us into darkness? If they did, the law must take its course. But the blackouts tell a bigger story than sabotage – it is about whether the city’s managers can unlock its potential to truly be a world-class African city.

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