Dark days indeed

David Bullard says that while rolling blackouts are bad, worse is yet to come


Finally somebody is telling us the truth. Expect another eighteen months of load-shedding warns Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Far from being aggrieved at this news we should be delighted that somebody has finally had the guts to tell it like it is.

We’ve been toyed with and lied to for years now with promises of an uninterrupted supply of power from past Eskom execs and, most recently, Cyril’s flight from Egypt with the solemn promise that the lights would stay on all over the festive season. As I wrote at the time, there was something very suspicious about our sudden move from Stage 6 load-shedding to no load shedding at all. I suspect an audit of the diesel expenditure would explain all.


To language purists of course the term “load-shedding” is probably no longer applicable. A more appropriate and honest term would be “rolling blackouts” because that is what we are going to get. If there is no electricity available on consecutive days for the next eighteen months, even if it is only for two hours a day, that qualifies as a rolling blackout. Load-shedding, on the other hand, is what the Australian power supply authorities said might happen if the grid couldn’t cope with the devastation of the recent fires. Load-shedding is an emergency measure and was never intended to be permanent.

No, what we are experiencing are rolling blackouts but it might take a while for the mainstream media to catch on to this phrase because it suggests an air of third-worldliness about us that the ruling party is keen to conceal. Particularly with those pesky ratings agencies snooping around our overflowing dustbins and people like Richard Quest being rude about us at Davos.

However, once you’ve accepted that we’re just another African basket case the idea of having no electricity for maybe five hours a day doesn’t seem nearly as bad. Far worse is to come which will definitely take our minds off the absence of electricity. The abolition of private medical care is apparently going to be fast-tracked and we also have the confiscation of private property under a rewrite of the constitution to occupy our minds. Think of rolling blackouts as a preparation; a way of bringing us all much closer to the people of Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

Clearly Mr de Ruyter has a plan (quite possibly the first person to have had one in 20 years) but he isn’t a magician and it’s not going to be feasible to turn the problems at Eskom around in a few months. So we should all wish him the very best of luck and feel happy to forgo such first world fripperies as electricity in a spirit of patriotism and the national interest. The government needs to think up a snappy slogan to bring us all together as a nation. Something along the lines of “Power corrupts; that’s why we’re rationing it”.

Of course there will always be those (economists, futurists, cynical columnists and their like) who won’t buy into this wonderful way of uniting the people of our beautiful land under a shared burden. They will point out that even with stage 2 rolling blackouts a business could be without power on some days for as long as 5 hours. Unless that business has the wherewithal to buy a generator or install expensive solar panels then it’s going to be a struggle to survive. This will inevitably lead to job losses since there’s little point in employing people to hang about at work waiting for the electricity to come back on.

I remember visiting a shopping mall during a power outage last year and several of the smaller shops were in darkness for a couple of hours. Their tenancy agreement means that they have to remain open but very few customers wander in to browse in a darkened book-shop. Of course, even if they had wanted to search for something with the light from their Smart phone they wouldn’t have been able to pay for it because all the pay points would have been dead so it would be cash only.

Of course, most of us get cash from an ATM these days and judging by the lengthy queues in Somerset Mall last Saturday an awful lot of frustrated people had hoped to draw cash to go shopping but were stymied by load shedding which took place between 8am and 10am. For the next eighteen months you’d better know who sheds what and where and plan your visit to an ATM with military precision.

Apart from the virtual impossibility of running a profitable small business for the next eighteen months even more fun will be had by leaving your darkened and unproductive workplace at 6pm just as the lights come on and just as the traffic lights go out in the next area to be affected.

Cape Town traffic is apparently the worst in SA according to a recent survey and that’s when everything is working properly. So just imagine the chaos at that busy intersection during rush hours as the lights go out. My suggestion would be to use the extra hours you’re about to spend in traffic to learn a new language as taxis cut across three lanes of traffic to get to their destination. A Chinese language might be a wise choice.

By the time you do get home several hours later the chances are that your house will be in darkness or that there will be no light or power to prepare the kids for school the following morning. Fortunately I no longer need to commute but I would advise those who do to stock up on Prozac or a similar generic before stocks run out.

It’s these moments of adversity that bring a nation together and we will all emerge stronger and more united down the line. Meanwhile, let me give you a quick investment tip. Buy shares in any company manufacturing and supplying generators, solar panels, inverters and lithium batteries. You’ll be glad you did.

(Note: David Bullard is NOT a registered financial adviser and the advice contained in the last paragraph of this column is just his way of being a bit of a smart-arse).