Rolling blackouts by State-owned electricity utility Eskom are hurting small businesses the most, as many cannot afford fuel-powered generators for alternative sources of energy, one of South Africa's oldest trade unions UASA has said.
In a statement late on Monday, UASA spokesperson Stanford Mazhindu said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s "valiant" efforts to bring Eskom under control about a year ago had "failed miserably" as shown by the company being forced to implement unprecedented "stage 6" load shedding to avoid tripping the national grid as its generating units broke down.
Stage 6 involves suppressing up to 6 000 MW of electricity demand at any given time to ease pressure on the grid.
"South Africa is in deep trouble. We know there is no magic formula, and we don’t want a magic formula. What we want is a power utility that is responsibly managed, enabling South Africans to live quality lives and get on with their business enterprises," Mazhindu said.
"A short stroll down a busy small business area during load shedding indicates just how dire the situation is. People sitting outside because they cannot work. Kitchens, laundries, opticians, veterinary clinics are closed and therefore losing money."
"Micro businesses are hit the hardest as many cannot afford generators. Micro and medium sized business employers will soon be unable to afford to pay staff and more South Africans will join the masses of the unemployed," he added.
He said Eskom "clearly" had no idea how to resolve its current issues, and wondered what had happened to a technical review task team, assisted by independent engineers, that had been appointed months ago to tackle the issues at the company.
"The cumulative effect and cost of load shedding on the average South African is devastating," Mazhindu said.
"Over and above the billions of rand a day lost due to load shedding, there are other effects on the man in the street that hardly get a mention," he added, citing the loss of cell phone signals, security concerns during extended load shedding periods and productive hours lost with commuters stuck in traffic, among several other examples.