DURBAN - SMALL businesses no longer have faith in the government’s ability to manage the power outages problem, said KwaMashu Business Chamber chairperson Sthembiso Mabanga.
His was among many business chambers in KwaZulu-Natal commenting on the “catastrophic” effects load shedding has had on businesses.
“It looks like it (load shedding) will be for a prolonged timeline and that is hugely concerning,” Mabanga said.
He said most businesses would have to shut down, as “they were already on their knees post the July unrest – which was the biggest injustice, in particular for black-owned businesses”.
“Decentralised power supply is perhaps the best solution. Municipalities must be empowered to provide their own energy solutions. Government must also look to subsidise small enterprises for their stock loss.”
Mabanga added that township businesses were perhaps those most affected by the lack of energy security, as most buy perishable stock and once items cannot be sold, they could not replace them. He said losses had already run into millions of rand.
“Small businesses no longer have faith in the government’s ability to manage the problem,” he said.
Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said Eskom’s load shedding was “a catastrophe for businesses”.
“Municipal infrastructure is in a bad state. When cables are not live, the thieves steal them and sometimes we are down for three days in a row. If it’s not tripping, it’s theft or load shedding.”
Veness added that one of the complaints received from businesses was that machines could not be “powered up” after the load shedding had passed, with some taking up to eight hours to reboot.
“This is devastating for businesses. There is low growth, looting and disruptions through load shedding. Industrial machines cannot be powered up without electricity, others sometimes require business owners to get technicians from overseas to fix them, as a result of blackouts,” she said.
“Should blackouts continue, industrially, there will be business closure.”
President of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce, Thami Sithole said load shedding was a “third wave” in a series of tragedies that have hit businesses.
“Businesses suffered loss during the unrest, Covid-19 and now the load shedding is further exacerbating the loss,” Sithole said.
He also estimated that the loss of revenue ran into millions of rand.
He said businesses were desperately seeking alternative solutions which were extremely costly, particularly for small businesses.
“The worst is the direct impact this will have on jobs for a population that is already reeling from unemployment,” Sithole said.
He added most businesses without generators had to pause operations, when there was no power.
“When businesses are unable to operate, they end up having difficulty in maintaining their operations, resulting in job losses – and smaller businesses might have to close shop,” he said.
“Businesses in Richards Bay have been dealt a double-edged sword, when Umhlathuze Municipality experienced a string of power outages recently, caused by substation fires. This is being addressed by the city.”
Ian Campbell-Gillis, the policy director at the Umbilo Business Forum, said Eskom’s stage 4 load shedding continued to have a negative impact on businesses.
“Operating costs are now 5% to 10% higher than they used to be. Unless there is change, jobs are going to be lost,” Campbell-Gillis said.
He added that when load shedding persists, the country ceases to be competitive with the rest of the world.
Isipingo Business Forum chairperson Junaid Iqbal said there was loss of revenue for business and the economy.
“The load shedding is crippling the economy. Production and factories are mostly affected by the load shedding. I would say to Eskom, try to minimise blackouts to at least three days per week, instead of every day.”
He said 30% in revenue was likely going to be lost due to load shedding alone.
Black Business Forum chairperson Sifiso Khumalo said stage 4 load shedding presented many challenges, among them stock loss, perishable goods expiring, and sometimes tools being blown up when electricity returned.
“Eskom is not under the right leadership. They really don’t know what they are doing. We need change. Leadership should be accountable and there must be a clear maintenance plan in order to ensure we have enough power.”