Johannesburg - If you live in Soweto or any township in the country, the term ‘load reduction’ will be all too familiar to you. And according to Soweto residents, these are power cuts implemented by Eskom only in black townships in places such as Braam Fischerville, Dobsonville, Mapetla, Dlamini and Diepkloof where the power can be out for five hours at a go.
This load reduction usually takes place between 5pm and 10pm when most people return home from work and have to cook supper for their families. And then load shedding would follow – meaning no electricity for the residents for the whole day.
Some residents breathe a sigh of relief when load shedding is scheduled because they sometimes escape load reduction.
Protea North locals were this week subjected to three nights of load reduction, with no power on some mornings. Many have resorted to using gas as an alternative source of power.
“They were repeatedly switching off Protea North at around 6pm without prior notice this week between Tuesday evening through to Thursday evening. This isn’t load reduction or load shedding, and with their simultaneous implementation, it means it was deliberate,” said Thabang Lekgatlhe, a resident in the area who was affected by the cuts.
However, Eskom spokesperson, Sikonathi Mantshansha said load reduction is a technical intervention to respond to the rising network equipment failures in high-density areas such as Soweto, with energy losses above 51%.
“It is unfortunate that Eskom was forced to resort to load reduction as one of the control measures to protect the equipment from failure due to network overloading, which causes damage to equipment that could lead to explosions of transformers and other equipment, placing both members of the public and property at risk. At times this has even led to fatalities,” Mantshantsha said.
In Soweto, Mantshantsha pointed out, Eskom has a total of 173 800 customers, of which 85 563 are zero buyers. That means more than 50% of customers in Soweto are zero buyers (do not pay for the electricity they use) while only 40% buy and pay for electricity.
“Improvement in payment levels (purchasing of electricity tokens from legal vendors) will qualify an area to be removed from the load reduction schedule. We are also conducting audits, removing illegal connections and acting against meter tampering, as well as imposing penalties for any transgression, while driving this initiative that is part of our multi-pronged strategy,” he said.
He added that load reduction is real-time management to protect the network and that Eskom continuously monitors the feeders to determine any reduction in losses.
17-year-old Reamohetswe Machike, from Naledi Extension 2 is an affected Grade 11 learner, saying getting ready for school was a challenge when there is no electricity.
“We didn’t have power on Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning. You are lucky if your geyser still has any hot water because you can take a decent bath in the morning to get ready for school.
"Food rots in the house due to lack of refrigeration. We, as a community, don't feel like Eskom cares about us here, nor wants to engage with the people," he said.
A frustrated Kabelo Noe said Eskom’s silence is deafening, and they need answers.
“When people physically respond (by being on the streets) they will be the first to blame residents. The South African Human Rights Commission and Eskom are abusing our rights. There has been no notification about load shedding in Protea North for days, and they keep ignoring our requests. Are we the only 'high-density area' in Soweto? You will never see Rosebank or Sandton on that list. It is all black areas,” he charged.
According to Mantshantsha, load shedding is implemented nationally and affects the whole country when Eskom does not have sufficient generating capacity to meet the demand for the entire country.
Load reduction gets suspended immediately once load shedding has been declared and implemented. In such a scenario, load reduction will only be implemented the day after load shedding is suspended.
“If the energy losses improve in a manner that the equipment is no longer at risk of failure or explosion, these customers are removed from the load reduction schedule.
“Eskom will continue implementing load reduction for as long as the circumstances that gave rise to the (imperfect) solution persist. That is: communities need to desist from causing energy losses by overloading the network through illegally connecting, bypassing meters and illegally tampering with infrastructure and desist from buying electricity units from illegal vendors. Communities also need to buy and pay for the electricity they have used. This will ensure that the energy losses are reduced to a minimum and enable Eskom to remove such communities from load reduction,” Mantshantsha said.