Steam rises at sunrise from an Eskom coal-burning power station near Sasolburg. Siphiwe Sibeko Reuters
It could be Christmas by candlelight for Durban holidaymakers and residents this festive season as Eskom announced lengthy rolling blackouts across the country, possibly until March.

As thousands of matric leavers descend on the city's coastal stretches for the annual Matric Rage festival, which kicks off today, the tourist industry has been urged to create contingency plans to avoid significant risk to the province's tourism and hospitality sectors.

“Load shedding at the start of the holiday season in any of the coastal cities is a disgrace, especially so for eThekwini, which is the premier holiday destination for South Africa,” said Peter Rose, chairperson of uMhlanga Tourism Association.

Charles Preece, Fedhasa KZN operations manager, said he hoped load shedding would not happen over the festive season.

“South Africans have more than enough stress in their lives and do not deserve to be given such poor service by a state-owned enterprise that is forever demanding more and more of taxpayers' money.

"When people are inconvenienced they tend to have a less enjoyable time. Hospitality workers, lest we forget their role, will be under greater pressure,” said Preece.

Economist Dawie Roodt said load shedding “will certainly have an impact on tourists coming to Durban”.

Desmond D’Sa, co-ordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said those with hard-earned savings would suffer.

“People with not much means have been buying meat for the year-end using their savings. Load shedding can end up destroying food.

"This is also the busiest season for small businesses, when they can recover losses. It's a tragedy that Eskom decides to load-shed,” he said.

D’Sa said it was “a damn shame” that South Africa had to live with Eskom's problems.

“It shows the corruption scandal is deeper and wider than was revealed. We don't need commissions, we need prosecutions. If Eskom management cannot do their job, they must leave. They must employ qualified people.”

Ben Modikwe, the KwaZulu-Natal chairperson of the Active Citizenship Movement, predicted a spike in crime. “When it's dark, criminals are free to do as they please. They like the darkness.

"We need state-owned enterprises to be partly privatised. That's the only way out of this,” he said.

Eskom said yesterday the probability of load shedding was high this week as a result of a “shortage of capacity”.