The first implementation of stage 4 load shedding by Eskom yesterday triggered a chorus of dismay and frustration.
DURBAN - The first implementation of stage 4 load shedding by Eskom yesterday triggered a chorus of dismay and frustration as businesses and residents grappled with the costs and uncertainty of power disruptions.

Eskom, for the first time in the country’s load-shedding era, implemented stage 4 load shedding after the parastatal announced that it had lost six additional generating units.

In Addis Ababa, President Ramaphosa expressed shock at the stage 4 development. Reports that six generating units had gone down were “most worrying, most disturbing”.

“That shocked me, and also made me quite angry that we’ve reached this stage of dysfunctionality,” he said.

The announcement of more cuts came at lunchtime yesterday - 38 minutes after stage 4 blackouts actually started. This meant that certain areas of Durban were hit twice by power cuts.

“We are in an economic crisis and frankly there is not enough money coming in during this time for most of us to survive,” said businesswoman Bonnie Minnaar, owner of Rox Coffee Shop in uMhlanga.

Minnaar said that during last year’s load-shedding period, her coffee and smoothie shop was “badly hit”.

“Our business peaks in the morning, lunchtime and in the later afternoon. At that time, it coincided with the load-shedding times. We are a fairly new and tiny business and load shedding has massively affected us as the majority of the money we bring in for the day is during the times the power cuts occur.

“We have had to dip into our savings but other businesses like ours do not have savings. For many, their business is their bread and butter with nothing to fall back on,” Minnaar said.

Stage 4 was added by Eskom to its power-saving measures four years ago. Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe confirmed that it was the first time the power utility had implemented stage 4 load shedding. At 8am yesterday, Eskom announced stage 2 load shedding, saying a number of units had returned to service while others continued to trip. At 1.38pm, Eskom announced stage 4 from 1pm to 10pm.

Eskom needed to shed more than 4000 megawatts of consumption to keep the national grid from collapsing.

Stage 4 load shedding also allows Eskom to start additional, unscheduled power cuts wherever it needs to and outside of its schedules.

If it does go according to the schedule, households and businesses would be in for load shedding 12 times over a four-day period for two hours at a time, or 12 times over an eight-day period for four hours at a time.

Eskom urged South Africans to use electricity sparingly by switching off geysers, non-essential lighting and other electrical appliances to reduce pressure.

Phasiwe clarified that load shedding had returned because of plant breakdowns and not because of sabotage.

He said Eskom was working on getting units back on line. Phasiwe said management was meeting to get feedback from the various power stations, and the system operator on the state of the system.

He also confirmed that the Department of Public Enterprises, through Minister Pravin Gordhan, was meeting Eskom’s board to address the matter.

Another Durban resident, Mervin Kannemeyer, described load shedding as “a pain” and questioned why a coal- producing country was in this position.

“The country exports 70 million tons of coal to several countries. Our very own coal is used to generate electricity and we as citizens are struggling so bad that load shedding must be introduced.

“South Africa also sells electricity to neighbouring countries and they’re not struggling like we do. Do we, as a coal-producing country, really have a problem? Does all of this boil down to poor management?” Kannemeyer asked.

An uMlazi BB section resident, Noluthando Gumede, said she was not aware that load shedding had started in her area. She said that there was a serious lack of communication between Eskom and residents.

“Power outages longer than two hours would cause a lot of damage to our food in the fridges. We use appliances that require electricity all the time,” she said.

EThekwini Municipality said it would deploy more traffic officers at traffic lights during load shedding.

City manager Sipho Nzuza issued an appeal to all residents to use electricity sparingly. He said the grid was stretched to its limits and it was incumbent on everyone to be responsible.

Last week, Ramaphosa announced in the State of the Nation Address that Eskom would be broken up into three entities - generation, transmission and distribution - in an effort to make the power utility operationally and financially sustainable.

The president also said that the government would be supporting Eskom’s balance sheet. The details of what this entails will be revealed when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni delivers the Budget on February 20.

- THE MERCURY