Empty chairs, spoilt food and unfulfilled orders: Small businesses count the cost of load shedding

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Load shedding has presented challenges to small businesses in Gauteng.
Load shedding has presented challenges to small businesses in Gauteng.
PHOTO: Zandile Khumalo/News24
  • Small businesses are struggling to keep afloat due to load shedding.
  • Severe load shedding has persisted while Eskom grapples with plant breakdowns and waiting for fuel to feed its emergency generators.
  • Some small business owners use alternatives to keep operating in unstable and unreliable times, but others have either come to a standstill or lost customers.

The future is not very bright for many small business owners dealing with sustained blackouts, as they are unable to fork out money for generators and are thus losing customers and income.

In some cases, not even a generator is enough to keep the lights on.

Owners still have to pay their rent, which is causing financial strain amid higher stages of load shedding due to plant breakdowns and a wait for fuel to feed Eskom's emergency generators.

Interior of shop empty with no customers
The unstable and unreliable power grid has made it impossible for Randburg printing and embroidery shop Ara Empire of Design to survive.
News24 PHOTO: Zandile Khumalo/News24

When News24 visited Ara Empire of Design in Randburg, Gauteng last week, frustration was etched on the face of owner Leroy Maranyika.

Sitting on the edge of a couch and waiting for the power to kick back in, Maranyika – who runs a printing and embroidery shop – looked drained and frustrated. He kept saying, "I am just useless," as he pointed to the empty chairs that should have been occupied by customers ready to do their hair, as the printing shop shares a space with a salon.

READ | Load shedding shuts down single mom's online teaching business after students quit over disruptions

"These are the situations daily since the start of load shedding. This load shedding thing is killing me," said Maranyika.

According to Maranyika, the barber of the shop often comes to work between 07:00 and 08:00, ready to start his day but lately, that has been impossible.

"Today alone, he lost about six clients. That's just him. The lady who does the hair can't do her job because there is no hot water or dryer. My nail tech is not here because her equipment needs electricity.

"That's just the salon. Now imagine how I am struggling as the printing guy. I am unable to do my work, not because I can't but because there is no electricity," Maranyika said.

"All my toys (printing equipment) need electricity. My laptop and desktop run on electricity. I am useless without my machines and printers. It's like I am constantly delaying my job every time," he said.

Maranyika detailed how just recently, he had to refund a customer after failing to deliver on an embroidery job for 10 T-shirts.

"Load shedding went on for four hours, and at that time, I only needed just two hours to get the job done. Load shedding is killing me. I had to refund my client about R800.

"That's all I have been doing lately – refunding. Some clients do not have the patience to wait for electricity. They will demand their money," he said.

Printing equipment stands dormant with no power
The owner of Ara Empire of Design says the printing store has been quiet due to load shedding.
News24 z

According to Maranyika, customers sometimes see the darkness in the shop and immediately turn around.

"The client will ask me how I will do a job without electricity and go somewhere else where there is electricity," he said.

Maranyika specialises in photocopying, embroidery, large format printing, T-shirt and cap printing, and product branding, among other things. While he has always been known for his ability to deliver to customers without fail, he said these days, it seems as if he is failing his customers and himself.

"I have the ink; I have the machines to do the job. The only thing I don't have at this point is electricity."

He said:

We are situated in a space that is accessible to everyone, and people come here to print their CVs, make banners and all, but now I can't deliver because of load shedding. Today again, I lost R800 because I could not make two banners.

Maranyika said a generator was not an option as it wouldn't power up all his equipment. "As it is, the T-shirt printing machines take up a lot of electricity. What more when I have a generator? All the power will go there. I have tried buying a generator that only powers up the lights. I don't need lights; I need my machines to work."

Maranyika was also concerned about being able to pay rent, seeing that he was losing customers on both sides of the business.

"Remember, the salon needs to give me money for rent, and I also need to take money out of my side of the business. If there is no electricity, the salon does not make money. How will they pay me?

"I can't go to the landlord and give excuses. At the end of the day, they also want their money, and if they do not have it, they take the keys and lock the door, leaving me outside.

"At this point, I am forced to take money out of my pocket. How is that even fair?" Maranyika added.

Easy Living Apartments' Canteen in Randburg, which specialises in homemade food and kotas (filled bread), was another business facing challenges.

While the employees declined to be identified, they said running a canteen during load shedding was challenging. While walking inside the canteen, an employee was seen stirring beef stew on a four-plate gas stove.

"When we get to work in the morning, we clean the place and start pre-cooking the stew. We try as much as possible to push the meat because we have a gas stove," the employee said.

Directing News24 to the deep-frying space where the kotas and slap chips are made, the employee pointed to food in containers that would be thrown away.

The employee said:

We have been throwing away a lot of food because food gets spoilt. Some of the things in the fried [oil] also get spoilt (sic), then we have to throw it out. This is food-wasting.

Another employee was busy with an order from a woman who wanted a kota with atchar.

"When I make chips for the kota, I try not to overcook the chips. So, you will find that the chips are half done.

"When an order comes in, we simply deep-fry the chips and immediately start preparing," said the employee, who was busy with the order.

A third employee told News24 that when load shedding hits, all kota orders and orders with chips come to a standstill.

"If there's load shedding and a customer wants a kota, I can't deliver because I need the deep fryer to make the chips, which uses electricity. So, I can't take that order.

"And those who want chips with a burger, wings, fish... I can't deliver, which becomes a loss for us," the employee said.

Thato Masondo and Thula Ndema have managed to keep their business Sobae Frozen afloat, unlike many other small businesses in the area.
Products from Sobae Frozen dessert shop
Using solar power, Masondo and Ndema are able to mix ripe fruit and freeze it.
Supplied Supplied
Frozen fruit dessert sold by Sobae Frozen
Entrepreneurs Thato Masondo and Thula Ndema's business is operational despite load shedding.
Supplied Supplied

"We are available on Uber Eats, Bolt, and Mr D, but when it's load shedding, we go offline. That means for those hours, we don't get orders. Again, money lost."

Despite the use of gas stoves, the employees maintained that they still needed a deep fryer for most of their meals.

While load shedding has been detrimental to the two businesses, Gauteng independent entrepreneurs Thato Masondo and Thula Ndema are more fortunate.

They rely on solar power to ensure their dessert business, Sobae Frozen, thrives in tough times.

"We buy ripe fruit in bulk from street vendors to stop food wastage. When it's ripe, it has less sugar and is naturally sweet, with more flavour.

"We then put those in a mixer and freeze them. We do not add cream and eggs," said Masondo.

It remains to be seen how much longer small businesses will have to come up with solutions to stay afloat.

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