Saturday, January 19, 2008


our electricity provider, eskom, is having problems. this stems from them not keeping up with increased demands over the last 12 or so years. it seems that our great and wonderful government didn't feel it was necessary. turns out they were wrong. now they can't produce enough electricity for the country. well that is not entirely true. they export electricity to a number of our neighbours, so there is probably enough for south africa, but not enough for southern africa.

this results in what they euphemistically refer to as load shedding. what it is, is to simply cut the power to large areas of the country during the day. (interesting to note that our neighbours don't lose power. only we do). we in nelspruit have been having blackouts on a daily basis for quite a number of hours every day. this means that almost everything grinds to a halt. many borderline businesses will go under and a lot of money will be lost by the larger companies. this will have a dramatic effect on our economy. but at least our neighbours won't be affected. eskom, it seems, cares more about the economy of our neighbours than it does about our own.

why am i writing about this? because hospitals are also getting hit. the other day i was operating in the government hospital when the power was cut. the entire list was canceled. emergency cases only could be done. so no lives were lost, but if you were booked for a hernia repair, sorry. and seeing that these cuts are happening every day, when you come back, you have a good chance of being canceled again.
and in private? the same. the theaters stand empty for hours. ct scans can't be done. sonars wait for the power to come back on. i know of one case where a cardiac angiogram was delayed because of these cuts. one can only hope that it wasn't critical.
and what do we do while the power is off? we wait until it comes back on. what else can we do. in fact the photo above is a photo of us waiting in the doctor's tea room (i'm just out of shot on the left). note our alternative light source.

so, zimbabwe, we are well on our way in following your example of moving back into the dark ages.


Sheena Gates said...

Bongi I am loving your sense of humour on this!

I'll definately be back!

make mine trauma said...

Wow, with no generators for emergency back-up (?) I guess there's always mechanical ventilation and flashlights.
Which neighbor is it that doesn't lose power and why are they special?

Love the tea room, looks warm and relaxing.

Bongi said...

mmt, there are generators at both hospitals. they keep the icu running and can keep emergency theaters running. but all elective stuff grinds to a halt.

zimbabwe and mozambique and maybe lesotho and swaziland get electricity from us. possibly even botswana and namibia. i'm not sure what percentage they get from us, though.

Alison Cummins said...

Here in Quebec we export power too, and our customers are given priority over us. We have more than enough power for our own needs, but Hydro-Qu├ębec vigorously promotes energy economy so that we have lots left over to sell. Our customers pay less than we do, and if we need to load-shed it won't be our customers who are hit. I think that's pretty universal, and in our case probably a good thing

If the utility knows load-shedding will be necessary, why not schedule and rotate it? That would seem much less disruptive than going Oops! every day. And there should also be a way of having designated essential services - like hospitals - fed.

Oh well. We'll all be in the same boat soon enough.

Bongi said...

alison, i hear you. i think here there is quite a lot of emotion about the whole thing though. you see, the government actively stopped all electricity upgrades despite the fact that they were constantly warned there was going to be a crisis. as recently as just over a year ago our amazingly short sighted and narrow minded president, thabo mbeki (who also denies the connection between hiv and aids, by the way) said there was no power crisis.

so, you see, we needn't have ended in this situation. it was foreseen and not avoided, basically due to politically bungling.

the good news is this useless president has been voted out of his position as head of the ruling party, so his days of great and mighty leader are numbered. i'm not a zuma supporter per se, but anything is better than what we have now.

Samon Isberg said...

Love your blog.

But could I ask you - where does your electrical power come from? I mean, is it nuclear, hydroelectric, coal,gasoline, solar or what?

Bongi said...

samon, we have one nuclear station in cape town. almost all the rest is coal. i think there are one or two almost insignificant hydroelectric plants.

the coal stations are mainly clustered around witbank, where this blog was born. the stories about pollution are understated.

Daytonatom said...

Sawubona Bongi - the reason that your neighbours don't suffer the same plight is that there are contracts binding Eskom to provide uninterrupted power. These contracts were drawn up when power supplies were going in both directions between SA and her neighbours. Sadly, these neighbours are no longer capable of keeping up their end of the bargain and have been written off as bad debtors. Eskom is obliged to meet its end of the bargain, otherwise it pays penalties, which it can ill afford to do.

Bongi said...

yebo daytonatom. i know that. eskom looks after number one. some or other eskom spokesman told the government to no longer try to attract foreign investment until 2012 because we will not be able to supply the power needed for them. if this is not a bullet through the head of south africa's economy, then i don't know what would be. frankly i don't care about what eskom can or can't afford except as how it extrapolates to my power bill. eskom is willing to sell their country down the river. i don't see why we should care about them.

the actual question is not whether eskom can afford it, but whether the economy of our country can afford the cuts. if the loss to the country is more with cuts, eskom should take the punch. of course they won't. but they should

Alison Cummins said...

bongi, I hear you too.

What I think is saddest is the whole cascade of things going wrong. Not only has there been no power upgrade program for the past twelve years and none for the future (coal will not be sustainable for long, because it will need to be exported for foreign currency to people who can pay more for it than South Africans can) - there isn't any reasonable harm-reduction plan for right this #ing now.

It's one thing to have an incompetent government. It's another to combine that with an utterly unresponsive utility company.

I lived in Nigeria in the 1970s before that house of cards came tumbling down. We had no running water, no telephone, no television, and no radio except for the BBC World Service. We queued for petrol a bit, but not as much as our friends in the country did - some of whom found that keeping a horse was a sensible backup to a car. Not having electricity was not great - kerosene everything is smoky and potentially dangerous - but it turns out that one doesn't need a refrigerator if one uses dried milk and knows how to preserve meat. As long as our expectations were aligned with reality, things hummed along and worked pretty well.

Eventually we did get electricity, which was wonderful. (Not least because it could drive an overhead fan at night.) It wasn't perfectly reliable, but as I recall it was fairly close. (Others interpreted the acronym for the Nigerian Electric Power Authority as Never Expect Power Again. That might have been partly a regional difference.) Our friends in the country typically had a couple of hours of electricity per day provided by a campus generator. Also pretty reliable.

But this sunny view of different expressions of a good life all hinges on an alignment between expectations and reality. If you don't know what reality to expect, it's both technically and morally difficult to function.

You have my sympathies.

Alison Cummins said...

And no, I understand that my sunny view of what can be achieved by the proper adjustment of expectations has no bearing on the economy. You're on your own with that... at least for now.

Craig Taverner said...

Consider this paradox:- here in Sweden they make, use and export Solar Panels! Thinks about it, Sweden - near the north pole - not much sun! I've heard that they are designing the biggest solar generator in the world in Australia. That makes sense. Now what about South Africa!

I think South Africans are innovative and entrepreneurial. Surely escom's failings, or the governments idiocy, can only result in competition for the electricity market? I know there is 'regulation', but this is Africa, consider the taxi industry!

I have a German friend who told me two relevant stories:
1- His parents set up solar panels on their farmyard barn, generating enough power that they sell the excess back to the energy company. Wow! Community support! That would be fantastic in South Africa. However, I think this would have to explicitly disallow government involvement.
2- A friend of his re-wired his entire home to 12V DC, much safer, cheaper and more efficient than 220V AC (over short distances, that is). And he powers it through solar panels also.

Now with the global environmental concerns driving this kind of innovation in Europe, and driving down the prices for the required equipment, surely escoms bungling could drive similar moves in SA! And there is decent sun in SA too!