Friday, May 08, 2015

A Foreigners’ Guide to Load-shedding

Homework by candlelight
Some things are uniquely South African, like braais, fynbos, vuvuzelas and Table Mountain. Now we have one more thing to bewilder and confuse visitors from abroad and overseas readers of our social media platforms: load-shedding.

Load-shedding has consumed all of our energies and channelled our collective frustration into a froth of social media invective and subversive wit for the last several months now. If you’ve seen the word Eishkom once you’ve seen it a thousand times, but if you’re still in the dark (pun alert) about what we’re talking about, here is a short guide:

Load-shedding is when the power to your whole area gets switched off for a few hours, usually when you have a cake in the oven, an important deadline to meet, or a very exciting rugby game on TV. You may know in advance that it’s going off, or you may have no warning at all.

In theory a schedule is all  worked out and clearly defined. You can look up your area's schedule of 2.5 hour slots online and see what times are allocated to your area.

For each area there are three scenarios: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3.

Stage 1 is relatively benign – one of your three daily time slots alternates over three days and some days you have none at all.
Stage 2 you have one slot every day, sometimes two.
Stage 3 is the killer, two or three slots every day

But here is the wild card.
You never know if there will be load-shedding at all, if so what time it will start, and which stage will be put in place.

It might start off being announced as Stage 1 and then suddenly change to Stage 2 with less than a minute’s warning. Or they might say all day that there will be no load-shedding, only to put Stage 1 in place a minute before 6pm, which is when our time slot starts, crashing all our computers.... again.

So what is that Eishkom thing all about?
Eskom is South Africa’s national energy provider.  Eish is a very South African word expressing exasperation or disbelief, with a long drawn out vowel sound to funnel all that frustration. A natural match.

Why are Eskom doing this to us?
It’s not just to browbeat us into submission and make those new-age hippies advocating alternative power accept the need for more nuclear power stations built by the Russians (I think... unless you subscribe to conspiracy theories). Our national power demands have gone up and the infrastructure is all suddenly getting older (apparently Eskom didn’t see that one coming) and is in urgent need of maintenance. Some of our shiny new wind power farms are working, others are standing there not turning and waiting for parts that never come. We have lots and lots of free and gorgeous sunshine, but it’s too expensive to harness it (why?).

Because this is a light and fluffy post I won’t mention that pundits tell us this is only going to get worse, or how bad this is for our economy, and can reassure those who are thinking of coming over here to visit our beautiful, hospitable country that all the essential infrastructure is still working – hospitals don’t get load-shed, most hotels and restaurants have generator back-ups and much of the CBD isn’t targeted at all. If you come and stay with us I can promise candlelit dinners cooked over our gas hob, braais and, without the distractions of computers and TV, long chats on the sofa in the dim candlelight.

We’ll survive. Our computers might not and our cakes may all collapse but, to look on the bright side, (call me Pollyanna if you want) this might be just what is needed to get the solar industry to go mainstream and to motivate a whole lot of us to get off the grid, so that Eishkom won’t need to build any more nuclear power stations after all. Here’s hoping!

Fellow South Africans - if you haven't yet got a reliable load-shedding alert system, try Gridwatch, a Smartphone app from News24, that works pretty well... as long as Eskom give anyone advance notice that is!


  1. That's just insane, Kit. People here in NY would be rioting in the streets if they tried to pull that sort of crap on us. Not me personally, of course, but I mean - when Americans pay for something, they darn well better get it OR ELSE. The lawsuits would be a-flying! Glad you're able to turn it into something positive. 8-)

    1. It is insane, Marcheline, but it's amazing how quickly people begin to accept it as the new normal. We all curse like mad and grumble incessantly, but there's nothing we can do to fix it, unless we sort ourselves out with batteries, generators, solar etc. Basically Eskom has a monopoly on energy provision, they haven't invested enough on the infrastructure over the years and now are putting up prices and switching us off in order to keep going and keep up with maintenance.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!