The town where power blackouts are “totally normal”

Many South Africans were distraught when Eskom announced it would be rolling out nationwide blackouts following the collapse of a coal storage silo at the Majuba power station in Mpumalanga. But this was not the case at Umgababa, a village 40km south of Durban.

Power outages are a regular occurrence in Umgababa and load-shedding notice boards are a myth. The power supply to this area has been unstable since the 2008 Eskom load shedding crisis.

While a 15 minute power outage will breed panic in urban places, the people of Umgababa have had to learn to live with them. QINISO MBILI asked locals how they deal with the persistent blackouts.

Irene StholeIrene Sthole, 67, pensioner
This recent announcement that Eskom has made about blackouts doesn’t really worry me because that is totally normal to us. When I go to bed at night I always make sure to put hot water in flasks so that my grandchildren can bathe with warm water in the morning because there is usually no electricity in the morning. When it comes back on during the day, I make sure that I cook supper before it goes off again. I have a gas stove but I do not like it because it adds an unpleasant smell to the food. I also have battery powered lights that the children use to study at night when there is an outage.

Kwenza MajolaKwenza Majola, 38, aluminum window fitter
I heard on the news sometime ago that Eskom would be rolling out nationwide blackouts, but this is no news to me as the power outages are already frequent here. We get blackouts that last for three to five hours, and on really bad days they can go on for up to 15 hours. These blackouts used to affect my business greatly because I use an electric grinder to cut up aluminum for fitting. Seeing that these blackouts were causing too much inconvenience, I ended up buying an electricity generator.

Mrs GumedeMrs Gumede, 72, pensioner
Some of us don’t care about the blackouts. Electricity is too expensive anyway. I seldom use the electric stove to cook, even when there is electricity. My biggest concern lies in the meat that gets damaged in the fridges because of the blackouts that come and go. I cannot say there has been much more inconvenience caused because I am used to this and I am always prepared for it. My neighbor used to call the Eskom people to come and investigate every time there was a blackout and they would fix it but after a day or two, we would start experiencing blackouts again.

Thabiso ThwalaThabiso Thwala, 17, grade 11 learner
I’ve gotten used to bathing with cold water because I don’t have the time to wait for the water to boil up; the paraffin stove takes too long. I carry my phone at school to charge and make sure that by the time I go home I have a full battery because there’s a great chance that there will be no electricity back home. When my mother does the grocery shopping I always remind her to get a pack of candles that I will use to study at night. She calls the Eskom people when we have a blackout and they come to fix it but it only lasts for a few days. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that someone is tampering with the power flow. What the nation is experiencing after the silo collapse at Eskom is only what we go through every day.

To compare, Qiniso also interviewed some young people from suburban Durban to find out how load shedding has affected them.

Nomfundo ZumaNomfundo Zuma, 21, student, Amanzimtoti
Two hours with no electricity is too much for me. First of all, I can’t charge my phone which means I am disconnected from the online world, secondly I have to buy take aways every time the lights are out which is expensive and unhealthy. Lastly when I do assignments I prefer doing research on the internet and I can’t do that when the computer is off. There are many more hardships that one faces but those are my worst three. I know that load shedding is compulsory in order for Eskom to maintain stable power supply but it is a major inconvenience to us.

Sethabile BhekiswayoSethabile Bhekiswayo, 26, call centre agent, Illovo Beach
I feel like my world almost comes to a stop when there is an outage. A few nights ago the lights went out and I decided to go straight to bed because I live alone and I’m scared of the dark. First thing that happened in the morning is that I woke up 30 minutes late because my battery was dead and my phone alarm couldn’t ring. While I was taking a cold shower in the dark I started mulling over what I was going to wear, that’s when it struck me that my wardrobe choice would be limited to things that don’t need ironing. I leave my house very early in the morning because I take taxis and I work very far from home. That morning I had to walk in the dark as the street lights were also out. I hope Eskom fixes this quickly because we pay for this service.

– Vox pops have been edited for brevity and clarity