S.Africa’s businesses marooned by rolling blackouts

As if choreographed by a puppet master, stores along the aisle of a Johannesburg mall hurriedly shut their cdoors one by one as soon as power outages strike slap-bang in the middle of the day, reports BSS/AFP.

“We have to close the store immediately because people can steal… the card machines also don’t work without electricity,” a 23 year-old clothing retail worker told AFP. Since 2008, state utility Eskom has sporadically implemented rolling blackouts — rationing up to 4,000 megawatts at a time — to help prevent a collapse of the electricity grid, a process known as “load shedding”.

But this week, the crisis suddenly worsened as Eskom rationed 6,000 megawatts from the national power grid, prompting the worst cuts in the country so far. The power outages have caused many businesses to lose out on hours of sales during the peak festive season, threatening an already fragile economy.

“Most of them have to close shop as they can’t afford alternative solutions such as generators and renewable energy such as solar systems,” the CEO of the Black Business Council, Kganki Matabane, told AFP. Across town about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Johannesburg in the crucial industrial manufacturing hub known as the Vaal Triangle, industrialists reel from the unstable supply of power.

“The big industries that start up furnaces lose an obscene amount of money when there are blackouts,” said Jaco Verwey, vice-chairman of the Golden Triangle Chamber of Commerce. “Firstly they lose money on downtime. Secondly they lose money on restarting again because they need more electricity to restart their furnaces.”

The organisation boasts around 450 member businesses, 33 of which pay a combined electricity bill of 100 million rands ($6.8 million) a month. Businesses, big and small, are plunged daily into darkness for nearly five hours at a time, sometimes even multiple times a day.