-The country is in the grip of rolling blackouts, euphemistically referred to as 'load shedding'
When a fellow African says something like, “Electricity has changed my life,” you expect them to be someone who has recently left the ranks of the 62.5 per cent (according to some estimates at least) of the population of sub-Saharan Africa who are without electricity.
However, when that African is yours truly, who has been privileged enough to have had electricity all his life (apart from a couple of times when I owed KPLC money), then perhaps you might do a double take. That is unless, of course, you are currently in South Africa, which is in the grip of rolling blackouts euphemistically* referred to as load shedding (*Please refer to last week’s column).
Electricity, or the scheduled lack of it every day for the last couple of weeks, has forced me (and I suspect many other people in this country) to completely re-organise my life and routines. These days, when I talk of clock-watching, it is more about when the next power outage will come. Without power I cannot use the Internet because I have no Wi-Fi, and South African data charges are just theft. The power outages are scheduled, so, for instance, this week my neighbourhood has had no power between the hours of 4am and 6am, noon and 2:30pm, and 8pm to 10pm. Another result of the power cuts is that I am forced to sleep at 8pm, like a schoolboy. I would read but reading by torchlight is torture for my ageing eyesight, and sitting in the dark for a couple hours doing nothing is naturally sleep inducing.
Thankfully, there are some clever people around. These boffins have created Apps that can accurately tell you when to expect power cuts, and so if you have a smartphone, you can do some sort of forward planning.
Of course these Apps are of no use to the majority of people, who use commuter trains to get in and out of Cape Town for work. Already the train system was in dire straits through arson attacks that destroyed 50 per cent of the service, so that now only 44 out of 88 train sets are in operation.
There was also rampant copper wire theft that made things tougher than normal, and now with power outages, commuters are in fear of losing their jobs. This is because capitalism doesn’t understand, or care, about your reasons for not getting to work on time everyday.
Meanwhile, there had to be a South African who found a way to bring race into the equation. On Twitter, a self-proclaimed “Proud Afrikaner” posted: “Eskom was founded in 1923 and delivered power without load shedding until 1995, when the ANC got hold of it…”
It didn’t take long for this ahistorical and frankly quite stupid tweet to get shot down. The reaction to it that I liked best said very simply: “Let’s be clear. Many of us South Africans, of all races, are pissed off about the #Loadshedding mess. But let's not forget that before 1994, electricity was a right to whites only. Many of us studied under candles. Power lines hovered over our homes [going to the] suburbs. Perspective matters.”