JOHANNESBURG — Christmas lights twinkle, holiday music plays, and Johannesburg’s famous Rosebank Shopping Center bustles with shoppers.
Then the lights go out. The shops are plunged into darkness. “Hold on to your wallets,” a customer shouts with sad laughter.
A long minute later, the distant hum of a generator is heard. The lights and music turn back on and the employees start ringing the shopping bells again.
Christmas 2022 in South Africa is a start/stop affair, with nationwide blackouts affecting just about every aspect of the holiday. Businesses and families face power outages of 7 to 10 hours a day.
The blast of diesel generators can be heard in shops and restaurants from uptown to townships. Customers know to walk far around them to avoid harmful fumes.
The festive calendar of holidays with family and friends is now a painstaking dance around the daily schedule of power outages. Holiday cooking and video streaming are planned when there is electricity.
Most South African households now have a supply of solar lamps, kerosene lamps and candles to avoid being in complete darkness.
South Africa’s utility, Eskom, has struggled for more than 10 years to meet electricity demand in the continent’s most industrialized economy, but the problem has worsened this year. A major problem is that the power company relies on an array of older coal-fired power plants that experience frequent outages. Added to these misfortunes are the shortage of qualified technicians and corruption.
Eskom said this week it had been forced to apply its highest level of power cuts so far – Stage 6 – over the holiday period due to outages at eight generator sets. This is particularly surprising as the demand for electricity is reduced during the Christmas and New Year period, as many factories and mines close during the holidays.
The power company’s inability to provide enough electricity has held back economic growth for years. As power cuts worsen, Eskom’s chief announced his resignation this month. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s failure to address the country’s power issues was one of the sharpest criticisms leveled at him last week at the national conference of his ruling party, the African National Congress.
In Johannesburg’s bustling Sandton City mall, many shoppers were watching the clock so they could be home in time to cook while they still had electricity.
“We have to look at the schedule…and then we can do whatever needs to be cooked. Or we use a gas stove. And we can set the table outside, make the candles and it will be beautiful, ”said Molalo Mishapo, optimistic.
Natasha Singh, visiting Johannesburg from Durban, said she was lucky not to feel the effects of the power cuts because the hotel where she is staying has generators.
“So we don’t feel that much at the hotel, luckily for that,” she said. “But we … turn off and on about three or four times a day. It’s a bit hectic.
Although 2022 has been a tough year due to rising prices and continued power outages, it’s important for people to celebrate their good health after experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, said Cindy Naidoo.
“Coming from COVID…it’s a blessing, I think, just to be happy and healthy,” she said. “Forget the lights and just live.”