It’s become a fight for survival and many people are barely hanging on. Ramped-up rolling blackouts aren’t only crippling small business owners, there’s also the fear of theft and burglary during power outages and damage to equipment when the voltage spikes as the power comes back on.
While politicians meet (again) to try to sort out the mess and Eskom (again and again) announces yet more loadshedding, desperation has become the order of the day.
YOU speaks to people forced to their knees by the crisis facing the country.
Ebrahim Seedat – restaurant owner
His business was just recovering from lockdown restrictions when loadshedding became increasingly worse last year.
Two to four hours of no power at a time crippled his day-to-day operations so much that he’s had to close his Wimpy franchise in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, after 10 years.
“Loadshedding has really broken our back,” Ebrahim tells YOU. “People avoid areas where there’s loadshedding or reschedule their day according to the loadshedding schedule, and it’s drawn business away.”
The cost of installing a generator is just way too much, so Ebrahim (51) and his partner decided to close shop.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but they also had to consider the safety of their staff and customers. One of his employees arrived home after midnight one night because she couldn’t find transport after work during loadshedding.
“If something had happened to her, it would’ve been on my conscience,” he says.
Though it pains him that his staff of 20 – most of whom are breadwinners – won’t be able to provide for their families, he has no choice.
“Many of our customers have been pleading with us to keep operating. If my business had to survive on loyalty and sentiment, I’d open 24 hours a day.”
S’busisiwe Buska Sithebe – canned goods business
“Mentally and physically, I’m finished,” she says. S’busisiwe (37), from Kroonstad in the Free State, has been run ragged trying to keep her business, Buska Foods, afloat.
It processes canned foods, including beetroot, tomato purée, carrot and sweetcorn, but after six years of hard work she’s had to throw in the towel.
The most painful part of it all is that demand for her product was only just starting to grow and there’d been interest from as far afield as Ethiopia. But she just wasn’t able to deliver.
READ MORE | Here's a range of devices to keep you out of the dark during loadshedding
“The fact is you can’t do anything when you don’t have electricity. I really tried for six months to make it work, until I couldn’t anymore,” she says.
S’busisiwe also had to contend with water cuts in her area because of loadshedding.
“Because we’re working with food, we need to wash everything before we cook. We needed water more than we needed electricity,” she says. “It’s so hard to wake up every morning and think that this baby I worked so hard for is no more.”
Nolitha Qhuma – clothing business and coffee shop
“It seems everyone is going to need a generator soon just to keep going – but who can afford one?”
In December, when parts of the country were plunged into darkness for up to 10 hours at a time, Nolitha worked around the clock to meet the demands of clients at her clothing business.
“My seamstresses and I came in at night to work because we had to make sure that when there was electricity, there was somebody working on the machines.”
Her coffee shop is struggling too. “We’re trying to grow the culture of coffee and we had regular customers, but now our customers get there and there’s no coffee.
“There’s already a big unemployment problem in South Africa and as small businesses, we’re assisting with that. But loadshedding is fighting us every step of the way.”
Life-threatening effects of loadshedding
Power cuts can literally be a matter of life and death.
He’s been living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for the past few years and relies on an electricity-powered oxygen supply to help him breathe.
Even though the Johannesburg resident has invested in an inverter, it’s cold comfort.
“Because of the short breaks in between loadshedding, the batteries don’t charge enough,” says Deon (57), who was admitted to hospital in December after a nine-hour outage left his inverter unable to recharge.
The 18-year-old’s life was cut short in November when she passed away from lung failure. The Eastern Cape teen was diagnosed with lung disease in 2018 and had been relying on an electricity-powered oxygen machine to manage her illness.
But, says her aunt Ntombizandile Kwenane, loadshedding had devastating consequences. The stress of it all made her illness even worse and she eventually died at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London.
Not all doom and gloom
@coffeetocar Come get Coffee served to you inthe comfort of your car. Corner Voortrekker street and Marais ave on the R55 just across mall@55 in Centurion #SAMA28 ? original sound - Coffee to Car
Lehubedu Mohlabe's mobile coffee business started in the thick of loadshedding last year.
The idea came to him while he was driving to work one day. The 37-year-old Centurion resident stopped to buy coffee along the way but ended up spending 25 minutes getting out of his car, ordering it and waiting.
“I thought, ‘Why is it I can’t open my window and have someone right here offering me coffee?’” he says.
READ MORE | KZN couple who care for sick kids are desperate for relief from Eskom: ‘Loadshedding is slowly killing my kids’
Lehubedu, who worked long days as a temporary employee in retail after losing his job in digital administration at an airline company, went home that evening and pitched a rough idea to his wife. And that’s how his company, Coffee to Car, was born.
“We went and bought coffee, a trolley and flasks, and off I went,” says Lehubedu. Due to provincial by-laws, however, he’s had to ditch his roadside trolley and now sells his products from a strap-on carrier. Business is booming, he says.
“All I really need is water, which I can boil on a fire if there’s loadshedding.”
EXTRA SOURCES: NEWS24.COM, GROUNDUP.ORG.ZA