Bleak about a ‘black Christmas’

2019-12-11 15:17
Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness lights candles during a period of load shedding at the chamber’s offices. PHOTO: MOEKETSI MAMANE

Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness lights candles during a period of load shedding at the chamber’s offices. PHOTO: MOEKETSI MAMANE

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It will be a black Christmas for city businesses, who expect their “worst ever” festive period due to the Eskom crisis which led to stage 6 load shedding this week.

The business sector has expressed deep pessimism going into what is usually the busiest period for stores, and have reported already seeing a drop in production, customers and income.

Embattled power utility Eskom introduced stage 6 load shedding on Monday night. This dropped to stage 4 yesterday, with load shedding looking likely to remain for the rest of the week.

Apart from general inconvenience and business loss, load shedding also affects cell phone towers, home and business security and creates traffic backlogs because of traffic lights not working.

The Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business (PMCB) said local factories were already sending their staff home because their plants cannot operate under these conditions.

Yunus Asmall, a director of the clothing chain Asmalls, expected this December to be the worst festive period in the company’s near 90-year history.

“There is no question there will be loss of business. Even our suppliers can’t deliver on time because factories can’t produce when there’s load shedding.”

He said load shedding was already hampering festive season plans. “Last Friday we kept the shops open until 9 pm, but load shedding started at 8 pm and our shoppers just left.

“They don’t really come to us when there’s no power.”

Shantel Beneche, the owner of Blu Gel salon, said the business will feel the pinch of using a generator for longer periods of time than usual.

“We have geared our salon around load shedding. What also affects us is that hair dryers sometimes blow up during power surges. And it’s not like we can charge extra at this period to cover the fuel for the generator.”

The director of Metro Taxis, Junaid Sayed, said traffic lights going down was leading to major delays in their operations. “It creates havoc and customers complain that we’re taking double the time. There’s also the cost of running generators to keep us going during load shedding.”

PMCB CEO Melanie Veness expected small businesses to find it very tough to survive during stage 6 load shedding.

“I can’t think of anyone who will make it through stage 6 unscathed. It is devastating for businesses.

“Some factories take two hours to power up, so having extra periods of load shedding will make it impossible for them to function. Factories can’t meet their obligations and they will lose future income because people will think they’re unreliable.”

Kantha Naidoo, the chairperson of the Msunduzi Economic Development Agency, said load shedding was putting another hurdle in the way of businesses making profits. “Businesses are already trading in difficult economic times,” she said. “Not all businesses can afford generators, but there’s nothing they can do. We’re all at the mercy of load shedding.”

Invest in battery back-up to ensure safety

Lucas Holtzhausen, of Msunduzi’s Safe City initiative, advised people to have battery back-up for CCTV recorders, electric gates, electric fences and doors to ensure safety during load shedding.

CCTV cameras should be connected to an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) unit — but he warned that UPS systems had limited life­spans and should be checked regularly.

“It can be problematic to open an electric gate from the outside if it has no power. Hence these batteries need to be checked regularly.

“When opening a garage or electric gate manually, extreme caution must be exercised as criminals can strike at that moment. Be aware of your surroundings before getting out of your vehicle.

“Physical security barriers like burglar guards and security gates still remain the most reliable protection especially during load shedding. Have a couple of recharge­able lights ready in your house. A strong rechargeable spotlight will be ideal. Never open a door if you cannot see the person outside. If there are suspicious activities on your premises, remain indoors and phone the SAPS, contracted security company or neighbourhood watch.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  load shedding
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