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Have South Africans surrendered to load shedding?

In 2007 South Africa experienced its first bout of load shedding, a whopping 16 years ago. Little did we know that this was the first hint of a new normal for our country.
Have South Africans surrendered to load shedding?

The red flags had, in fact, been there for many years before. One of the most alarming flags was the fact that Eskom had only built one new and functional power station between 1991 to 2021, despite the sharp growth in demand for electricity. Factor in a disintegrating infrastructure, mismanagement and theft of funds and a lack of action against electricity theft. It is easy now to see South Africa was heading towards a diabolical storm even before 2007.

But alas, here we are now, 16 years down the line feeling bitter and defeated. I must say that it really struck me just how far this had gone in late 2022 when our company, Bateleur Brand Planning, a research company, was hosting a consumer discussion at a conference venue. We were hit with load shedding in the middle of the discussion; the room went completely black with approximately 50 people inside. The part that left me dumbstruck was when no single person stopped having group discussions. They all simply continued the conversation and turned on their cell phone torches until the generators kicked in. I realised we were deep into the rabbit hole.

Many of us complain to one another about the issue of load shedding or simply roll our eyes when the lights go out. Some take it a step further and protest or strike; this is often met with the threat of upping a stage or two on the load shedding schedule. It seems we are stuck.

Have South Africans surrendered to load shedding?

These days people no longer flaunt their fancy cars as their most prized possession; instead, the car has been traded in for the fanciest inverter or solar setup. According to The Vantage Point survey conducted by Bateleur in 2022, only 2% of South Africans can say that load shedding does not impact them. Unsurprisingly, this directly correlates with the people with a solar setup big enough to cover most of their household electricity requirements.

What do the other 98% of South Africans have to deal with daily, and how do they mitigate load shedding, with a staggering 77% saying they were affected significantly?

Let's take a look at some of the key struggles the everyday South African now faces daily:

  • 53% say that their mealtimes are disturbed by load shedding, and women tend to worry about this more.
  • 51% said they had experienced damaged equipment and household appliances.
  • 47% said that they experienced additional stress due to load shedding; this was more prevalent among the Boomers than Millennials.
  • 45% of people said cellular networks become almost non-functional, and they cannot make phone calls; this gripe was bigger in the smaller, non-metropolitan provinces.
  • 43% of people said that they had had food in the refrigerator going off.
  • 39% were late for work because of traffic jams, and Gauteng was significantly more likely to be impacted by this.
  • 38% said that load shedding had a reduced production capacity in business.

The impacts mentioned above are simply a few of a litany of negative impacts load shedding has had on people and the country. Load shedding is costly in every aspect of life, such as mental health, personal finances, and the ability to work.

Many people attempt to mitigate the effects of load shedding by using gas (57%), adjusting their daily routines (55%), ensuring they have an adequate amount of battery-powered items (42%), using battery-powered light bulbs (39%) and simply having braais more often (21%).

As we progress towards finding more sustainable solutions towards solving the impacts of load shedding in our personal capacity, our research found that 18% of people are currently using some sort of solar power. Of those who have solar energy, only 20% of people said it covers everything. When factoring that into the South African population, only 4% of South Africans can say that they have enough solar energy to power an entire house. On average, people who have invested in solar energy spent almost R110,000!

What about those with no solar? Sixty percent said they were likely to invest in solar; however, our research indicates they are in for a bit of a surprise. When asked how much they were willing to invest in solar, they revealed an average of just under R50,000, compared to the average of R110,000 spent by people with solar. Their expectations of cost are very different to the reality of what solar energy costs.

I want to add a positive conclusion to this article, but that would be foolish. Yes, a wide array of solutions to the problem have been offered up. However, any plausible solution seems to be met with resistance. South African citizens have taken a passive approach, most likely because they do not know what to do.

I can offer that in life, change is possible, but only if it comes with a willingness and acceptance to move forward. Socrates once said, "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new".

9 Feb 2023 09:12