Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Johannesburg - Eskom’s latest load shedding rollout, which gripped the country this week, has come at a huge cost for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). While many big businesses fell back on generator power to keep production going, most small companies were forced to close.

Shahied Johnson, 41, who has been running his Chiliken shop in Eldorado Park, south of Joburg, for six years, lamented how load shedding has crippled his business.

“We are in a situation where we are getting (load shedding) blocks of four to six hours. Being in a residential area affects it more because we rely on the residents to generate business.

“If you’re sitting with a loaf of bread, it becomes redundant stock because you can’t sell your bread with no power to run your till systems,” said Johnson, who has turned to gas stoves as a back-up plan.

“I don’t plug the generator in because there is no fuel to run it As a plan B, we’ve worked around a lot of things. Mostly we flame grill; we’ve changed our hours of operation. My staff comes in extra early to cater for the time that we do not have.

“The majority of businesses are closing down. It’s not viable to render any services.”

Johnson added that with the downturn of the economy, and the mini-recession the country faced last year, it was getting tougher to do business.

“Business is dwindling. Businesses are suffering, from big conglomerates to the small guys on the street. It’s affecting everyone,” he said, adding that a solution to this predicament would be privatisation.

“I deal with clients in the UK. The UK has seven power suppliers. What is wrong with South Africa? Why can’t we have an alternative power supplier? Why can’t we have solar power? What is restricting SA from going into nuclear power? Only Eskom.

“It has become a monopoly.”

Regional general manager at Business Partners Limited Jeremy Lang offered some tips to small business owners. He said the implications of load shedding for SMMEs can be critical and, in order for them to limit this impact, they need to know exactly how the lack of consistent energy supply is affecting their businesses.

“For example, some businesses can accommodate producing goods and services around the load shedding schedules. However, other businesses may rely on passing trade at a specific time of the day. If this is the case, then load shedding can be detrimental,” said Lang.

“As electricity is generally cut for around two to four hours, SMMEs could lose up to four hours of an eight-hour working day, which can also impact employees who are paid by the hour.”

Another way SMMEs’ productivity can be impacted, said Lang, is in terms of their machinery, as some machines can take some time to start up.

“This can also be costlier as the machines may use more electricity to start up again and, in many instances, if the machines are busy with a continuous process and are interrupted midway, wastage costs will also increase.”

He warned that because of the uncertainty that the unreliable energy supply causes, SMMEs may not invest in growing their business at this time, which will in turn restrict the growth of the economy.

Lang added that in order to restore certainty to bolster economic growth, government needed to intervene in energy security and ensure that Eskom’s operational model is effective.

“We look forward to seeing how quickly the plans mentioned in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reply to the debate on the State of the Nation Address will be implemented to turn the utility around.”

Radio show unable to go on air

The effects of load shedding were felt across Joburg. Radio host Chad Williams, 22, couldn’t go on air for his 3-6pm Drivetime show on local station Eldos FM due to the power outage.

“I didn’t have a show. That is a major impact because that is a lot of inconsistency. We have the show five days a week and on Tuesday the lights only came back on at about 5.45pm, which is 15 minutes before my show ends. My show was interrupted. I had interviews that I’d scheduled but couldn’t do. The station does have a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) but that keeps us running only for a few minutes.

On the other side of town, Celina Mkhabela said they had to tweak the menu at Makhelwane Restaurant in Orlando, Soweto. The outlet on the famous Vilakazi Street specialises in traditional food, but Mkhabela said they had to serve only coffee, sandwiches and cooldrinks because food like samp and mogodu needs more time to prepare.

“We can’t cook anything; sometimes our generators don’t work. We then run behind schedule as the food we serve takes a while to prepare. The scheduled time (for load shedding) makes it all the more difficult as it’s during peak hours. We young businesses have it tough,” said Mkhabela.

Sunday Independent