Blackouts batter small businesses

Everest Ntakirutima’s profits from his fast food business have taken a dip due to ongoing loadshedding.

Joe Slovo entrepreneurs are buckling under the strain of Eskom’s rolling blackouts.

Small-business owners say they’re suffering big losses from the power cuts, and they have to cut back on hours because crime in the area makes it unsafe to stay open after dark.

Last week, Eskom announced Stage 6 load shedding, cutting power three times a day, for between two-and-half and four hours at a time.

Tabletalk visited businesses that were operating without power on a cold afternoon on Saturday June 2. The owners all said they expected to close early throughout this week as they feared operating in the dark.

Joe Slovo salon owner Amy Nibitanga said she made R250 on a busy day, but during last week’s power cuts her daily profits were down to R50.

“We cannot work when it’s dark because you cannot see ladies’ heads, and you don’t want to make a mess of someone’s image. It’s also dangerous to work at night on this street.”

Joe Slovo braai-stand owner Monelowa Monica Tshali, who has nine grandchildren dependent on her, said her business lost up to R500 a day due to load shedding. She relies heavily on a high-mast street light overlooking her stand.

Her business made between R1 000 and R1 500 on a busy day, but she made only R500 when there was load shedding, she said.

“I close shop at 9pm when there is power, but when it’s dark, I close at 5pm or 7pm, otherwise I risk getting robbed.

“When I consistently make less than R500 per day, as I did this week, it becomes increasingly difficult to pay rent for the shack I live in. Load shedding has also made it more difficult for me to be able to take care of my grandchildren.”

Everest Ntakirutima, who runs a spaza shop on Freedom Way, could not use his fryer to make hot chips for a couple of hours on Saturday.

“My chips business has taken a battering this week. We lose customers consistently because they’re scared to walk to the shop to buy things at night, and we’re scared of the criminals so we cannot operate at night. When in the dark, we obviously have to close earlier.”

Mr Ntakirutima said selling hot chips earned him up to R500 a day and his spaza shop made R1 000, totalling R1 500 on days with electricity. But his total profits dropped to between R500 and R700 on days with load shedding.

Load shedding has been exacerbated by a week-long strike that has been characterised by threats against Eskom employees who did not want to down tools.

Eskom spokesman Sikhona Mantshantsha said in a statement on Sunday July 3 that load shedding would persist, at various stages, over the next few weeks while the power utility recovered electricity generation levels seen before the strike.

“Depending on several possibilities – including the workforce fully returning to work to conduct much needed repairs to equipment – it is anticipated that load shedding will gradually be lowered to Stage 2 by the weekend,” Mr Mantshantsha said.

In a statement, mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the City was determined to end its reliance on Eskom-generated power as soon as possible,

“We simply must do more to protect our residents from the dire failure to provide even the most basic services at a national level – be it energy, policing, public transport, bulk water, you name it.

“We have to make sure that this is the last straw, by pushing as fast as we can to devolve the generation of electricity and other critical services from a national government that is clearly collapsing.”

The City had been using its Steenbras Dam hydroelectricity plant to cushion Capetonians from the full impact of Stage 6 load shedding, but some of that capacity had to be kept in reserve in case load shedding got worse, he said.

“And even this system has its limits. If Stage 6 is in place for most of the week again, the lower reservoir will fill up, and there won’t be enough time to pump water up fast enough to drain the reservoir and keep the turbines producing. Put simply, water runs down the hill much faster than it can be pumped back up.

“Importantly, the severity of this load shedding also means our infrastructure is taking a real beating.

“Heavy machinery – such as water pumps, sewage pump stations, electricity transformers and substations – is just not made to take this kind of abuse. The constant on-again-off-again is causing dozens of localised trips. Our teams are out in full force dealing with these local faults, and most can be resolved quickly. Some take longer.”

The City had deployed more than 100 extra traffic officers and 100 extra law enforcement and metro police officers to help manage the traffic consequences and to be a visible safety presence in communities, he said.

The City also spent an estimated R440 000 on fuel last week to operate its Athlone Gas Turbine power station to soften the impact of load shedding during peak periods, the Weekend Argus reported.

Salon owner Amy Nibitanga says her business cannot operate in the dark.
Load shedding hinders Joe Slovo braai stand owner Monelowa Monica Tshali’s ability to take care of her family.