Loadshedding stage 6 – what now? This is what it’s like when loadshedding is your daily reality

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A shop owner in Soweto picks an item for a customer by candlelight during a power outage attributed to Eskom's ageing coal-fired plants.
A shop owner in Soweto picks an item for a customer by candlelight during a power outage attributed to Eskom's ageing coal-fired plants.
Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/Gallo

Just as we were reeling from a chaotic week filled with calls for the President to resign, flooding that took 14 lives in the Jukskei, violent hail storms and record summer temperatures, the state power utility dropped another crisis of Biblical proportions on SA.

Stage 6 loadshedding.

These are the kind of rolling power blackouts South Africans imagined were not possible to reach, until September 2022 – the last time we experienced Stage 6.

This stage means many of us can expect to lose about 10 hours of productivity throughout the day as the state power utility switches off our lights daily to avoid leaving SA in total blackout.

This time, Eskom has come out and said from 12pm, 7 December 2022, the country will experience loadshedding until an indeterminate time.

When the state-owned enterprise last dropped the Stage 6 bomb, it also found it useful to offer a guide on how to stay loadshedding-ready: keep your cellphone batteries fully charged; stock up on candles; surge-protect your appliances; back up your data; check how long your medication can stay in a fridge that’s off; keep a small torch next to your bed . . .

Drum spoke to SMME-owners in Soweto who shared the anxiety of doing business in an environment where loss of electricity means loss of income.

Read more | With the country back in stage 4 loadshedding, here’s how to protect your appliances

When Selina Mokoena lost her retail job because of the pandemic, she decided to make a plan. She opened up her own salon, thinking there will always be a need for hairdressers and barbers.

Now her small business in Mofolo, Soweto, is hanging by a thread as constant power blackouts mean she not only cannot make money when she has no electricity, but she also loses clients.

It's a problem many kasi entrepreneurs face – having to find new ways to cope with constant power cuts or shutting down completely with the cost of generators too high for many of them to afford.

“The stage where they cut the power for two hours is better because in the two hours I can go and stock products that I need, and I only stock once in two weeks.

"In the four hours without electricity, I have to squeeze in as many clients and still maintain the standard of my job because I want them to come back."

"I do not want to like I am feeling this change and I was trying to make a living for myself because it is hard to get a job,” she says.

Nail tech and student Kamogelo Mthembu from Protea North, Soweto, says the loadshedding has been hectic for her too.

“I have to take in fewer clients now because I want to work against the loadshedding and that has been my struggle," she tells Drum.

"How I cope with loadshedding is by taking fewer clients in a day. That is the strategy I use to work against it. Sometimes I use a backup [power supply] and connect it to my laptop.

"But that only happens when they take the electricity unexpectedly because there is loadshedding stage and where they just take the electricity.”

When unexpected power cuts happen, she either uses her laptop to finish off a job or has to ask clients to come back later with half-finished nails, says Kamogelo.

Some clients are not cool with that.

“Some clients understand that it is not my fault, it is Eskom. Because of the plan, I don’t struggle but I can’t take it because of the loadshedding time.

"Either clients have to make it at the time that we agreed on, or they have to cancel and that makes me lose clients because others have urgent events that they have to go to and have to find an alternative nail tech."

"And that affects my business financially because I am losing clients. It’s not bad but stressful that when there are no power cuts because I can manage my time properly, and have time to do both school and my business which I am currently struggling with,” says the nail artist.

Selina says she started her hair business because she didn’t have any source of income, but loadshedding is forcing her to consider even taking clients at night.

“I have lost business because, in Soweto, it is loadshedding than the transformers that take months to be fixed. In my neighbourhood, we hadn’t electricity since 2020. They say the transformer had to be changed and it has been like that. It was Covid and electricity and ended up moving my business to Dobsonville. We had normal load shedding until last month when a transformer exploded.”

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She says she was still recovering from losing clients and getting new clients when the new problem started.

“I moved to a new place again and business is slow," says a despondent Selina.

"I am starting from scratch I have to find new customers and earn their trust so that they can be regular."

"I do not make much profit like when I operated a business at home. I had one person helping me but I had to let them go because I am even close to closing shop, as I am still applying for jobs.”

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