Daylight Savings Time

It's not even mid-November. The summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is still six weeks or so away. And yet, we are wasting precious sunlit hours.

On Sunday, we left the house to attend a road race some distance away, at 05h30. And it was already light. So much so that we didn't even require headlights on in the car. And yet on a typical workday, most people only get up around 6, with a view to leaving for the office at 7. The closer we get to December, the worse this waste of hours gets.

The answer is simple. We need daylight savings time (DST), a concept applied with great success around the world. We, speaking from the point of view of someone in Gauteng, need to shift our clocks forward an hour in spring and summer, to GMT+3. In this way, it will still be dark at 05h30-06h00, when most people are still waking up and focused on activities in the homes. But this results in a positive trade-off of an extra hour of sunshine in the evenings. Time to enjoy our magnificent climate and outdoors culture.

Cape Town, by virtue of being at longitude 18E, versus 28E for Joburg, but being on the same official time zone, enjoys informal DST already. And if you've been in holiday in the Cape over December-January, and enjoyed being able to be out and about until after 9 at night, you'll have an appreciation for the benefits of DST.

So how would it work? First, our three "Cape" provinces need to be one hour behind the six eastern provinces. Next, in the warmer months, the eastern zone goes to GMT+3, the western zone stays at GMT+2, as is currently the case. Conversely, in the winter months, the two zones turn back to GMT+2 and GMT+1 respectively.

We are fortunate that we have public holidays on 21 March and 24 September, dates that are super convenient for their proximity to the equinoxes, so that we could do our clock changes on those dates, and not mess up schedules on a working day. In most countries with DST, they change their clocks on an arbitrary Sunday, e.g. 01h00 on the last Sunday in October.

In addition to the lifestyle and cultural benefits of DST, the following are also advantageous...

- Spreading the electrical load on the national grid over a longer work day.

- Allowing commuters in the western zone to get to work in early daylight, instead of in darkness, as is currently the case in winter.

- Two 7-o'clock news bulletins - 7PM eastern time in isiZulu for the eastern region, 7PM western time in isiXhosa for the western region. Voila, two premier news broadcasts, for the two largest language groups.

Drawbacks? Minor, in my view. In cross-border regions with significant interaction, e.g. Kokstad in KZN and eastern Transkei in EC, or Kimberly in NC and the adjacent FS area, including Bloemfontein, there will have to be some local agreement on which zone to be used, especially in setting up business meetings. But this can be programmed into most calendar applications these days, with ease.

There is no doubt that implementing DST will cause monumental upheaval the first couple of times. But through the media, particularly the SABC TV and radio stations, we can educate people ahead of time, and transmit the correct times on the change days, with minimal impact on the next working day. But to continue wasting so much daylight cannot be condoned on this basis alone.

As intelligent citizens we need to lobby government, particularly Science and Technology, to press ahead with DST. We cannot claim to be a techno-savvy country, wanting to go ahead with projects like the SKA, when we avoid something as simple, yet beneficial, as DST. Even if our president can't count to 10.

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