SA’S power couple

2014-12-14 15:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Robbie van Heerden and Al’louise van Deventer really don’t want South Africa to descend into a total blackout – because if it does, they’ll be sued and will lose their jobs.

Van Deventer and Van Heerden are the duo tasked with managing Eskom’s national control centre in Germiston, on the East Rand.

They and their team must always know exactly what’s happening on the power grid. They have to figure out when load shedding is needed and when it can be avoided.

Sometimes their jobs make them unpopular with their own families: Van Heerden’s wife stormed out of an anniversary dinner two years ago because she became angry when he kept checking his phone for updates on the grid.

Ordinary South Africans, of course, can’t stand the phantom figures who actually have to flick the switches from “on” to “off”.

“Some of the insults are hurtful. Others call us stupid idiots who can’t do our jobs properly,” says Van Deventer.

“But we cannot take the insults personally because this is not a popularity contest.

“When we decide to do load shedding, we do so because there is a necessity and people in the country need to understand that.”

Without these periods of load shedding, “the country will be hit by a total blackout, and that is something we cannot afford to have”, she says.

It’s a Thursday afternoon at the control centre, the exact location of which is a closely guarded secret as it has been classified as a national key point. There’s a no-camera policy, and reporters can’t even carry their cellphones into the building.

Van Deventer and Van Heerden look nothing like typical boardroom players in tailored suits with serious expressions that say “time is money”.

The pair are casual and relaxed as we begin our tour, though both of them were awake in the early hours of the morning checking in on the grid and their team.

Both were there back in 2008 when Eskom first introduced load shedding, so when it came to flicking the switch again a few weeks ago, it was like déjà vu, according to Van Heerden.

We’re ushered into a boardroom overlooking the “engine room”, where five technicians face a massive screen full of boxes on which figures change each second.

The boxes show the amount of electricity being used in South Africa at any point in time, and indicate the power generated by various stations as well as what’s in reserve. They also monitor the transmission lines that warn technicians of fires or faults in the system.

It looks complicated, but the idea is to balance demand for electricity with what’s being generated.

“If generation meets demand, we are fine. The problem begins when demand outweighs generation – and that’s when we decide to do load shedding,” says Van Deventer.

“I know that some people think we just wake up and think: ‘Where can we turn off the power today?’

“But the reality is, we only initiate load shedding when it is needed because if we don’t, the whole system will collapse.”

According to her, if this happens, the country will be left without electricity “for at least two weeks”.

“It will be a total blackout and not load shedding, as some people confuse the two,” she says.

The consequences will be dire for the pair because preventing a grid collapse is part of their performance contract, and both could be held legally responsible if things fall apart.

“We are not here to make people’s lives a misery but to ensure the country always has power,” Van Heerden says as we leave the technicians and engineers to do their painstakingly stressful jobs.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…

What is at first an exciting tummy-turning adventure stunt, quickly turns into a scarily bad idea caught on camera. Take a look:


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Should you date your co-worker?
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.