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Load shedding need not be so predictably shambolic

Why is there no coordinated management of this crisis?
Entire cities sit gridlocked and unproductive during load shedding. Picture: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

The response to this week’s unexpected wave of rolling blackouts load shedding – by practically everyone – has been completely unimaginative. Predictably so.

They were ‘unexpected’ because, until Sunday morning, there really was zero indication from Eskom that the scenarios it had forecast nearly 10 weeks ago (!) before the December break were accurate. At that stage, we were told to expect possible shortfalls from the middle of January. Since then, the utility hasn’t said much at all, save for the quietly published system status bulletins (which most of South Africa has ignored).

Stage 2 load shedding is fairly manageable. Anything above that translates into utter chaos, because of the frequency of cuts and the sheer number of areas without power at any given time.

While the president and government’s top priority is, rightfully, to stabilise Eskom, the second priority ought to be keeping the disruption to the economy to an absolute minimum. Energy analyst Chris Yelland estimates that Stage 2 load shedding costs the productive economy R2 billion a day.

Yet there is absolutely no coordinated response to this crisis. Entire cities sat gridlocked for vast periods of Monday and Tuesday (much like they did months ago during the previous rounds of load shedding).

Why is there no coordination, particularly in the biggest five metros (Joburg, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, eThekwini)? Three of these are in what the provincial government loves to call the ‘Gauteng city region’, but the province has been completely silent.

Instead, we have robotic, inconsiderate scheduling that fails to appreciate the contexts and relative importance of different areas. Eskom and the metros will hide behind the fact that the schedules are ‘equitable’, but this is one of those situations where it literally doesn’t pay to be equitable.

A coordinated effort should be in place to get people to and from the major economic hubs (CBDs and industrial areas) in the major metros with as little disruption as possible. Transport corridors are well understood. Well over 100 000 people drive into Sandton each day. A far bigger amount travel to the Joburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town city centres, from where they travel onwards to their places of work.

Why has logic not prevailed when it comes to the scheduling of load shedding in these areas during the morning and (particularly) afternoon peaks? There is no value in the whole of Sandton sitting in gridlock because of load shedding between 4 pm and well after 7 pm (as is the case). The same is true of multiple other hubs.

Most companies and landlords – and small businesses – have adapted to load shedding and are able to be productive while the lights are out. Schedule cuts in these areas during the work day.

Traffic light outages due to load shedding may be unavoidable in SA (apparently California and New York City are somewhat ahead of us in this regard). So why are points people not deployed to the 50/80/100 most critical intersections in each city at a time to keep traffic flowing? Instead we sit back and rely on the existing services (which lurch from one round of contract or procurement uncertainty to the next) to do the job. There are tens of millions of unemployed South Africans. Find R50 million to deploy to this cause, and if the crisis continues, find more money. Our politicians and civil servants have been able to completely avoid processes under the pretence of ’emergency procurement’ for far larger sums of money. This is an emergency. Treat it as such.

Then there is the issue of very little consistency between the schedules published by Eskom for directly supplied areas, such as greater Sandton and Soweto, and the metro municipalities. Some run four-hour blocks (thankfully Eskom and City Power are aligned, without which there’d be almost permanent chaos in Joburg), others two-hour blocks. The City of Cape Town, confusingly, referred to the ‘upper’ two stages as ‘3A’ and ‘3B’.

Having lived and worked under both regimes – two-hour and four-hour blocks – the latter is far easier to plan around due to the simple fact that cuts in areas are less frequent (and there are far fewer faults/human errors when it comes to restoring supply). This coordination should extend to standardising and aligning these schedules across major economic hubs.

Eskom itself hasn’t exactly done an adequate job communicating. The entire country seemed horrified by the sudden escalation to the ‘unprecedented’ Stage 4 on Monday, without realising that it was the old Stage 3, under a new name. The utility quietly revised its load shedding regime in November and introduced an intermittent stage (3 000MW) above Stage 2. It also added stages all the way up to Stage 8, as a ‘prudent system operator’.

Read: Now there are eight stages of Eskom misery

Barely anyone knows this, which is squarely the fault of Eskom. On Monday and Tuesday, many news outlets ran breathless reporting about the “unprecedented Stage 4 load shedding”, without recognising that we’ve been here before (many, many times).

Communication about load shedding has been broken since it first reared its disruptive head in 2007 (12 years ago!).

In December, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said bluntly: “We must apologise that Eskom does not communicate effectively. Sending out a tweet about load shedding is not communicating.”

In truth, things haven’t gotten any better.

The entire country sits on tenterhooks each morning, waiting for Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe to tweet the prognosis for the day. And it will be thus.

Why aren’t there two briefings a day – coordinated by the national government to keep South Africa updated, allowing us to all plan around this inconvenience?

We can easily halve the cost to the economy with just a little thought and effort.

Hilton Tarrant works at YFM. He can still be contacted at




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You mention 2 billion a day cost for stage 2 load shedding. Is this the loss of GDP per day? Has anybody estimated how much of this is a loss of revenue to the taxman? Looking at different sources the tax revenue is around 22% of the GDP, so it would translate to 500 million loss per day for the fiscus.

Hilton,you are asking the government to plan ahead ? , when the whole country is falling apart due to lack of planning. It is difficult to know what you must plan when you are incompetent.

They don’t have the capacity to run a spaza shop (very little of them have business acumen) ; ‘cos the till would be pillaged.

absolutely….. why is there no coordination…because everything managed by the ANC government is dysfunctional.

“The government plan ahead?”
More like that the whole country is rolling on the floor laughing…

Hilton, I fully agree!

You are on the money, a little more thought and co-ordination could go a very long way!

Outsurances pointspeople, lets quadruple the number of them and then fund them like we fund OUTA, small debit order monthly from alot of people goes a very very long way!!!

Why are there always 2 outsurance pointsmen at an intersection?Even at a T-junction intersection.In the past there was always only 1 pointsman.Is this a new government law to create more jobs?

Here in the Cape Town City Bowl we have had no load shedding even though the Atlantic Seaboard has (they are on the same schedule as us) I am sure this is because parliament is in session. Pravin et al need lights to solve the Eskom crises after all!

Last week before the SONA all the many vagrants living on the streets here were removed. I cannot understand why they should have been left on the pavements so that the ANC can see the results of their policies. They are all back now.

AA BBBEE and Cadre protection all taken their toll once again. Protecting each other, nobody will hold anybody accountable because they will all be wearing orange.

The Italians are coming to rescue Eskom!
heaven forbid we asked the Americans or better still the Israelis!

this is another reason that makes me furious – we have excellent electrical engineers in south africa, but no, now we must once again get a foreign company / crowd to fix an inhouse problem who can also solve the problem if anybody at eskom could just interpreted and apply the given advice correctly. Is the anc now too shy / arrogant / thick skinned to request local professional advice??? This decision looks very similar to the toll road software case where more is paid for the software to a foreign country than what the software is generating in toll income – this could also have been done in south africa at a fraction of the price, don’t even think of the gupta/chinese locomotive fiasco. Where a foreign company is involved while the work could have been done inhouse, i ask myself: “any backhand money involved? – direct or indirect?”. Worst part of it all is that it is at the cost of the taxpayer and nobody else due to a clueless government

*lol* …well, IF the Italians are coming to rescue Eskom it can only be positive: the current reliability-factor of Eishkom is probably WORSE than a 30-year old ALFA ROMEO, that has never been serviced…

Instead of Medupi & Kusile, SA should have had the vision of constructing a few gigantic LISTER-engines (upscale it to say 200m high…like the Carlton Centre) as generation units. Those machines can run a decade without a service…perfect for application in Africa which does not have a “maintenance” mindset!

We then only need a monster-size human big enough to swing the handle…anyone? Mr “woodwork” Malema perhaps?

One thing we have plenty of is highly qualified and experienced engineers (note many are unemployed in engineering). It’s just that the’re not of approved colour.
We’d rather live with a problem that we can’t solve than accept a solution from people we don’t like.

Sam: You obviously know more about American and Israeli engineers than I do. Please do tell.

Planning, logic.???
Do’nt you ”civilized”people understand that in Africa it is to the benefit of the politicians/cadres to have a state bordering on anarchy , this way they can pig out without being brought to book.
Their will to improve things is FAR outweighed by personal greed.
60% of Nigerians are under the age of 30 and most of them say they are not voting in the upcoming elections. their average population is much smarter than our lot , they have given up because it just never gets better.
uhr uhr Nigeria has been ”FREE” for approx. 60 YEARS.

It is astonishing to me that Eskom and the government have been unable, or unwilling, despite 10 years’ after the 2008 blackout crisis, to put in place tiered tariffs like they have in many overseas countries. In other words, price power to smooth out demand – give businesses and residents substantially cheaper power at night. This is simple to put in place and can make a big difference. It’s a little bit more scientific and reliable than asking people nicely to switch their geysers and pool pumps off. We are probably the only country in the world where many people run resistive electric water heaters 24-7! Then again, we are dealing with a utility and a government that doesn’t have the will or means to collect on R15bn of debt owed by Soweto and another R15bn owed by delinquent municipalities, so it’s clear that even the simple things are beyond our grasp.

In trading if you don’t know when to cut your losses and run, then you lose everything.

In this instance you still have a chance to pack it in and move on to some other better asset.

My pros and cons of this place can drive you insane.
But now I’ve made up my mind.

So cheers SA.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution here we come. We can do it without electricity (and experts), we can, just be positive.

End of comments.



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