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Load shedding: Giwusa says scenes of black women hewing firewood have become common sight again

Mamatlwe Sebei, president of labour union Giwusa, says women in South Africa disproportionately bear the brunt of load shedding. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Mamatlwe Sebei, president of labour union Giwusa, says women in South Africa disproportionately bear the brunt of load shedding. Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Published Jul 6, 2022

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Pretoria - The General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) said the rolling blackouts implemented by Eskom are deepening levels of “energy poverty, energy racism” and terrorising the working class in South Africa with prolonged and devastating interruptions in electricity supply.

“Stage 6 load shedding means that in addition to load reduction programmes, black working-class communities are forced to stretch the incomes already burdened by intolerable levels of inflation, to survive another week under load shedding. This occurs in households that are already struggling to meet their daily needs, where savings are a luxury and every source of income is essential,” said Giwusa president Mametlwe Sebei.

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“Load shedding is expensive and burdensome to impoverished and working-class people. Energy poverty has made everyday life unbearable for ordinary, impoverished people who are the majority of South Africans, forcing them to find alternative ways to accomplish simple, daily tasks which creates extreme hardships for ordinary people, whose lives are already worse than miserable.”

He said the working-class communities in this era are not only trying to survive the intense stages of load shedding but they are also subjected to Eskom’s “energy racism” through load reduction.

“As we previously pointed out, the recent report by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Centre for Sociological Research and Practice (CSRP) titled “Energy Racism: South Africa’s electricity crisis in black working-class communities” showed that load reduction disproportionately affects impoverished black areas, such as Soweto and Orange Farm,” said Sebei.

“Load reduction is different to load shedding. Load shedding is when Eskom disconnects whole areas from the national grid on a rotational basis, meaning that mostly everyone will be equally affected by power cuts. Load reduction is when targeted residential areas are cut from the grid on a planned and regular basis. The report finding that poor, black areas are forced to experience load reduction far more frequently than previously white suburbs.”

He said other examples of “energy racism” include Eskom’s disconnections of individual homes, whole streets or sections, and Eskom forcing communities to adopt “green box” prepaid meters.

“These practices punish impoverished people for factors out of their control, including high-level corruption in Eskom and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), and mismanagement of funds for development by municipalities,” said Sebei.

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He said the recent increases in fuel prices would only aggravate the crisis of growing energy poverty, which adds the burden on women.

Labour union Giwusa is demanding an immediate end of stage 6 load shedding, lamenting that the effects are felt immensely by women. File Picture: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Energy poverty disproportionately affects women and further oppresses impoverished women who must struggle to make ends meet not only for themselves but for their immediate and extended families. Scenes of black working-class women hewing wood are once again becoming too common in many rural areas and informal urban settlements. This imbalance must be tackled by tackling the bigger evil of the capitalist system,” said Sebei.

“It is time for the working class to unite against the rising levels of climate crises and energy poverty. For these changes to happen, the working class must organise itself and struggle for free basic electricity for all in need and a rapid, just transition to clean, safe, renewable energy.”

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Among several demands, Giwusa is petitioning for:

- An immediate end of load shedding

- An immediate end to fuel price increases and electricity price hikes

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On Sunday, Eskom announced that it would continue implementing stage 6 load shedding this week, with varying stages of load shedding being implemented during the course of the week.

On Tuesday, despite Eskom and trade unions in the energy sector reaching an agreement on a 7% wage increase, the power utility said stage 5 load shedding would persist as their systems would take some time to recover following the strike.

“As a result of the strike, maintenance work has had to be postponed, and this backlog will take time to clear,” Eskom said.

Last week, the embattled utility implemented severe Stage 6 load shedding – the worst the country has seen in more than two years as workers at the power utility downed tools demanding better wages.

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