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A nuisance for the rich, disastrous for the poor

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Picture: African News Agency (ANA) – Much has been written about the impact of load shedding on business, but there’s been little interest in investigating the impact on the working class, poor communities and students, says the writer.

By Exlira Goise

While South Africa is a beautiful country and rich in resources, it finds itself plagued with a multitude of problems. Top of everyone’s list is the loathed “loadshedding”. We don’t have enough energy capacity for everyone’s needs.

Or so we’re told. Much has been written about the impact of loadshedding on business, but there’s been little interest in investigating the impact on the working class and poor communities, who use public facilities that usually don’t have the luxury of generators. Many homes for the aged have facilities where electricity is essential to the comfort, security and safety of our elderly parents and grandparents.

Residents who suffer from illnesses such as dementia are at huge risk when there is no electricity for security cameras to monitor patients. Care staff require electricity to prepare food, and switching over from using electrical appliances to non-electrical appliances will be difficult for members of vulnerable communities as they are underfunded. This adds another expense, in addition to the possible dangers of fires breaking out due to using gas appliances.

Elderly residents require constant care, including clean clothes and this can prove difficult if we cannot use electric washing machines to wash piles of laundry. Care homes need medical equipment for residents who require electricity, so when the power goes off, it poses a risk to the lives of the residents. An even greater threat to the lives of the elderly and frail is in situations when they need to be taken to hospital for urgent medical care and the traffic lights are not working.

Medicines are at risk during protracted power outages, deteriorating because they cannot be kept at the right temperatures, with delays in surgery due to surgeons requiring temperature-regulated equipment that use electricity. These pose serious threats to those who are terminally ill and to the elderly. Loadshedding is a problem for learners and students.

During Covid19, most were forced to acquire computers to assist with the transition to online learning. One of the basic requirements of online learning is the use of computers and access to wireless internet. The devices need to be charged. When there’s loadshedding for two-to-four hours twice or three times a day, students are unable to study, which will impact their academic performance, as this is a time when minimal or no productivity can take place at home. Many are forced to study in the dark by candlelight or using their cellphones, with limited battery supply. Loadshedding also devastated the informal business sector.

According to the Quarterly Informal Economy Survey conducted by World Economics1, the informal sector in South Africa accounted for 28.8 percent of the economy last year. Most of those in the informal sector come from rural areas or townships. Informal businesses that use electricity as an integral part of their operations have suffered severely. Businesses, such as food stalls that rely on electricity, have to close their doors during loadshedding.

The income lost during these unproductive hours undermines their ability to meet their non-negotiable expenses like rent, water, rates and production materials. The informal sector contributes largely to employment and was just recovering from Covid-19. Loadshedding is a nightmare for vulnerable residents, and the impact is worse for workers. Companies are either forced to close their doors or retrench their workers.

South Africa has an unemployment rate that is the highest in the world, especially among its youth population. A further surge in unemployment will lead to the incapacity of retrenched workers to pay for basic needs, increasing their reliance on the government and decreasing demand or spending power which, in turn, will have a knock-on effect on the income of other businesses, possibly leading to more retrenchments and more business shutdowns.

This is just a glimpse of the impact of loadshedding on working-class communities and sectors. There is a need for more research on this. Be that as it may, we need to fight for urgent solutions to loadshedding, lest we lose the provision of this essential service wholly to the private sector.

The article was first published in Umsebenzi Online.