Eskom renders people powerless in the darkness that they subject SA to

Before I sat down to write this column, I had to check the load shedding schedule. I had to make sure there was enough time before the next Eskom-inspired electricity blackout for me to write and whether we would still be connected to Wi-fi by the time I would be ready to email it.

They say a week is a long time in politics. In South Africa, it becomes even longer if one has to deal with what is euphemistically called “rolling blackouts” or “stage four load shedding”. It should rather be called what it is: a complete and utter mess-up (I can’t believe that I can be so polite despite my anger).

Like most South Africans, I had to quickly adjust to load shedding terminology this week. I had to find out whether we would be without electricity only once a day or, in the case of stage four, three times a day. I had to download an app with load-shedding schedules.

It is difficult to plan around Eskom time, as opposed to African time, because quite often they don’t stick to their own schedules. The other night, they said we would get load shedding at 6.30pm, but it started at 6.10pm. But they also once said that we would get load shedding in the morning, and nothing happened.

I know there are many South Africans who live in informal housing and do not have access to electricity. But electricity, like water, is a basic human right in modern society and one which has become an integral part of our lives.

Having to schedule our lives around the availability of electricity is not easy, and it creates great discomfort in many households. You have to check that all your emergency devices are fully charged, that your gas tanks are loaded, that you have enough power on your laptop, and that you have enough candles.

You have to put hot water in a flask so that you can make a cup of tea or coffee when the lights are out. You have to make sure that you cook while there is still electricity and that you cook something that can be eaten cold because you might not be able to warm it up at supper time.

People whose businesses need to run without interruption have had to buy generators to make sure that they do not lose productivity or profits.

I am fortunate because I possess the means to travel from an area without electricity to one without load shedding. So, if we have to, we can just go and have dinner or to see a show in an area which is not affected, according to the load-shedding schedule.

Most people do not have this luxury and just have to deal with their circumstances.

About 10 years ago, I was working with a Ghanaian media company and was based in the capital, Accra. Part of my deal was a house with a water tank and a generator, which I found quite funny at the time. It looks like we are heading that way in South Africa, unless we can stop the damage that has already been done to Eskom.

There have been all kinds of speculation about the latest bout of load shedding, coming as it does a few days after President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a reasonable and workman-like, if not mind-blowing, State of the Nation speech in which he announced that elections will held on May 8 this year.

I would love to buy into the conspiracy theories about possible sabotage but I think it is probably more simple and sadder than that. Eskom is messed up, it is bloated, inefficient and lacks leadership. And that is probably more dangerous than any conspiracy.

Phew! I made it. I have a few more minutes to email my column before the lights go out once again.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 February 2019)