Durban - The QuadPara Association of South Africa is appealing to the government and Eskom to rethink their approach to load shedding.
The NPO, which advocates for the rights of quadriplegics and paraplegics in the country, said ideally there would be no more burden placed on South Africans for a problem caused by the government’s lack of planning and poor management.
This week, Eskom announced the implementation of stages 2 and 4 blackouts due to a shortage of generation capacity, coupled with the higher demand due to the colder weather. Eskom said stage 2 would be implemented on Thursday between 5am and 4pm, increasing to stage 4 between 4pm and midnight and then downgraded to stage 2 on Friday between 5am and midnight. The move to stage 4 will see electricity outages in eThekwini, which had been left off the schedule due to significant infrastructure damage from April and May.
Highlighting a case, QuadPara said in June, Willie Muntingh’s ventilator went off after load shedding in his area. While his family tried to put him on oxygen, he went into a coma. He was declared brain dead shortly after. QuadPara is devastated by his death.
“We extend our condolences to his friends and family. What truly makes this heartbreaking is that it should have been avoided. Willie’s passing highlights the burden load shedding places on people with disabilities, their families and caregivers. It is at the point where their freedom, mobility and even lives are at risk,” QuadPara said.
The association said electricity is needed for a range of assistive devices that are essential to people with disabilities, from charging a power wheelchair to running a pressure-care mattress or ventilator.
“All of these require reliable and sustained access to electricity. Without it, people with disabilities remain stranded in their homes or beds and even battle for their lives, like Willie,” QuadPara said.
QuadPara said this not only takes away a quadriplegic or paraplegic’s independence, but also compromises their health, both physical and mental.
“They might be unable to collect medication, see their doctor or visit their occupational or physical therapist. Not to mention their inability to go to work or socialise with friends and family, which could lead to feeling isolated,” it said.
The association explained that the lack of mobility inadvertently puts additional strain on caregivers or family who then need to run errands on the person with a disability’s behalf. There might even be a need to fulfil additional roles for which they are not trained, such as assisting with exercise or movement to prevent pressure sores.
QuadPara said aside from the physical challenges, load shedding puts additional strain on a community that has little to no employment and income opportunities. They are required to take additional precautions to accommodate load shedding.
“In Willie’s case, the family needed to have oxygen tanks on hand. But what happens when you can’t afford these additional precautions? The situation is further aggravated by the unpredictable nature of load shedding. The schedule is changed multiple times a day, which could easily catch someone off guard, but also results in some having access to electricity for only a couple of hours a night. This might not be enough time to charge the various assistive devices needed on a daily basis,” the association said.
The association noted that there are also knock-on effects from load shedding where substations take additional strain during load shedding.
“They could trip or blow a fuse, which often extends the power outage for a couple of hours or even days. While the Constitution doesn’t make explicit mention of the right to electricity, it does mention that we have the right to human dignity, freedom of movement and access to adequate housing.
“Load shedding is infringing on all of those rights, especially for those people with disabilities whose independence, quality of life and sustaining of life relies on the access of electricity – something for which the government has taken responsibility,“ QuadPara said.
QuadPara urged the government, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Eskom to rethink their approach to load shedding.
“In the meantime, we call on predictable, reasonable load shedding. No more last-minute schedule or stage changes. No more stacked load shedding that gives some residents access to power for only a couple of hours at a time.
“It is no longer only our economy that suffers, but our people. We have been patient and accommodating, but now our people are dying because Eskom can’t keep the lights on,” the association said.