Load shedding first happened for a few weeks all the way back in 2008 and South Africa has struggled with periodic load shedding every few years since then. However it seems to be a semi-permanent fixture for 2022 and into 2023. In the past it has only happened in summer when air-conditioning ramps up demand. However, this time, we understand that it will be an ongoing concern for much of the next year.
South Africans are resilient people who ‘maak a plan’ and this current energy shortfall will lead to innovative solutions and a more careful stewardship of our energy resources.
What is Load-shedding?
This term, unique to South Africa, is more commonly known as ‘rotational blackouts’ in other countries. Quite simply, it is an engineered power shutdown where electricity is stopped for two hour periods of time over different parts of the distribution region. It is a necessary response for a situation where electricity demand outweighs supply. This is currently the case in South Africa if a power station goes down unexpectedly.
How could this happen?
The short answer is – goodness only knows. But the longer answer is that it is as a direct result of aging power stations and poor management by South Africa’s sole electricity provider, Eskom. There has been wide-spread corruption in Eskom over a period of many years. (How that was allowed to happen is a subject for a longer and more political blog than a travel company would want to write!)
So instead of investing in vital annual maintenance and upgrades, money was diverted, at various stages throughout the organization. The issues have been acknowledged by the South African Government and steps have been taken to remedy the current situation. However, it will take time to get Eskom, and thus the country’s electricity provision, back to where it should be.
However, Eskom is now under good management, corruption is being dealt with, and South Africa is investing in public-private investment to build out our solar capacity to greater depths to add capacity to the electricity supply.
How will it affect my safari holiday?
Most likely, it will only have a minor effect on the enjoyment of your safari trip. But load-shedding can vary – at a moments notice – from none to Stage 1 or 2 (minor disruption see below) all the way up to Stage 4 & 5. So it is always best to be informed and aware of the possibility.
What are the logistics?
So if Eskom cannot produce the required electricity for any time period, it introduces rolling load shedding. This is divided typically into five stages. The most common is Stage 1 or 2.
Stage 1 equates to 5 power cuts (of 2 hour duration) during a week. As some are in the night-time, it equates to around 3 power cuts between 6am and 10pm per week. These vary from area to area so that some fall during the working day and some are in the evening.
Stage 2 equates to 1-2 power cuts (2 hours) per day with one being between 6am and 10pm
Stage 3 equates to 2 power cuts (2 hours) per day with 1 to 2 of them being between 6am-10pm
Stages 4 & 5 – this is when it starts having a major impact – it equates to 2-3 power cuts (2 hours) per day with 2 of them being between 6am-10pm
How are Accommodation Providers dealing with Load Shedding?
South Africans are some of the most resilient and innovative people in the world. The will and desire of the South Africans to sort this out is incredible. Many suppliers have already implemented alternative sources of power to their facilities. Unfortunately the most common form of solar power is grid-tied. And that power goes off with load-shedding. But new hybrid solar/generator models are being developed. But for now, hotels and guesthouses are either using diesel-powered generators, or some form of extended batteries so that some lights can be maintained etc.
Ironically you are unlikely to be much affected in the safari camps. As these camps in remote areas already have generators as they have had power cuts due to tropical storms in the past. Similarly the use of generators means that many hotels are able to supply a near uninterrupted service supply.
However some of the smaller guesthouse – coming out of the losses incurred during Covid – have not installed generators. And sometimes in cities it is not always possible to do so anyway. But those that do not have generators, are working hard to improve the guest experience in other ways.
Tips for visitors
As there is absolutely nothing we can do about the macro-situation, I shall think positively. With a bit of luck, you will only be minimally affected, or not at all.
1) Know when the power cuts are due to happen
The most important thing is to know when power cuts in your area are likely to happen. Believe me, your hotel reception will have this etched into their brains. They will probably inform you each day. But if they dont, ASK THEM. Then you can plan accordingly. For example, if the power is off from 10pm to midnight, most people will aim to have dinner a little earlier so that they can be back in their room, preferably with tucked up in bed by 10pm.
But if you dont know, you may find that you return at 10.30pm to a poorly lit guest-house.
Important Note – Power cut times differ between regions and even within a city. So if you are on the move, you may want to look ahead.
If you have a smartphone with you, you can download an app such as EskomSePush. This is an extremely useful app as it tells you when the power cuts are happening in every area of the country and also what stage we are on.
Then you can be warned if and when load-shedding may affect you. This will give you an on-the-go update on current and forecast load shedding.
Or you can also look at Eskom’s own schedule on http://loadshedding.eskom.co.za/ Type in the province and the area that you are going to. Then type in the town or suburb.
Both of these will tell you if they are load-shedding and what the stage (stage 1 to 6) is. It will show the likely load-shedding times for the next few days. But this can change if you move from one stage to another.
2) Plan accordingly
a) Try to EAT outside of load shedding times. Many restaurants have a back-up plan. But to be frank – we have been surprised by how many still close their doors when load-shedding is on. Which means your choices suddenly shrink.
b) Try to minimise non-essential longer car journeys in cities during load shedding – see Traffic Lights below.
c) However, counter to this, driving in the rural areas during load shedding is a good way to see the country, and not feel the need for electricity. And charge your devices at the same time! So perhaps plan to be on the move from one hotel to another during any planned down-time?
d) Make sure that your phone and camera are fully charged prior to the power cuts. A power bank is very useful
e) The hotel or lodge will have provided extra emergency lighting in your rooms. But it will be darker than normal. So we also recommend bringing a head torch so that you can have both hands free, in case you need to look for something in a suitcase etc. And keeping your phone (with its ‘torch’ app) close to your bed in case of night-time trips to the bathroom. (I think that last comment shows my age!)
3) Exercise patience
The reality is that nothing works quite as it should when there is a power cut. So your room may not be ready at the usual check-in time because there was a power cut when they were due to clean the room. Or the previous guests may have opted for a later breakfast than normal and so left later.
The good news is that you are on holiday and not having to work. The hotel swimming pool doesn’t need power. Nor does a walk on the beach. Or a scenic drive over a mountain pass.
As this situation continues (as we understand it might into 2023), more and more suppliers will improve their back-up systems and visitors will be less and less affected.
As this is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of its likely duration, generator usage in hotel and guesthouse industry is patchy. Safari Camps should have generators. But in the cities large-scale generators have not been needed until now. Most large hotels got a generator way back in when the problem re-occurred. But some smaller guest lodges, villas or apartments may not have generators as they did not really need them. Others may have smaller generators/industrial batteries to power some services but not all.
As this is a variable situation, we will not be changing your hotel accommodation to hotels with generators. Especially once we are within the cancellation penalty period. As there may be no, or only very light, load shedding during your trip. The exception would be if you have a medical condition (see below) which requires constant electricity.
It is your responsiblity to contact us if this is the case. Then we will ensure that all hotels and guesthouse have a back-up power source for these emergency facilities.
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Traffic in Cities
Power cuts have a negative effect on traffic in the cities as some of the non-essential traffic lights do not work. This slows down the traffic as everyone has to treat the intersection as a four way stop, which is common in rural South Africa. A four-way-stop is an unusual intersection, beloved in South Africa, but not commonly known in Europe.
How it works: Whichever car comes to the intersection first has the right of way. So slow down at any traffic lights and then wait your turn. It works surprisingly well and is surprisingly common.
So, if possible, try to avoid driving during load shedding. If you must drive (to catch a plane for example) or if it’s just a short trip, allow plenty of extra time as a 20 minute drive will take 30 minutes and so forth.
Most generators do NOT power lifts or elevators in hotels. So if you are someone who needs the lift, then it is again important to make a note of load shedding times. And contact us to discuss your options ahead of your holiday.
Some people travel with a machine for sleep apnoea and need constant electricity. If this affects you, then again, please let us know.
What is Cedarberg Africa doing about it?
We remain passionate about giving our clients the best possible experience and service. So we are actively consulting with our suppliers on their contingency plans, and service levels, during load shedding so that we can inform you if requested.
We are always only a call away, even if just for reassurance.
We beat the water crisis. We can deal with this.
It is encouraging to be part of a journey towards a more sustainable and environmentally ‘green’ future in South Africa. South Africa is already a shining example to the world of how a nation pulled together in world record time to change behaviour, reduce frivolous wastage of essential water resources and become water-wise during a crisis.
Today, the words of Sir Winston Churchill; “Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste”, is implanted in the minds of all South Africans. We have a new relationship with water and are set for an incredible water-wise future. The innovations in sustainability, are exemplary. So we are sure that the innovations in alternative energy will be equally embraced.
We thank you for your understanding!
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Co-founder & Director
“How will Load-shedding affect my safari holiday”- was written by Cedarberg Africa
Cedarberg Africa is a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa. We focus on upmarket tailormade safaris for discerning and busy people. We make our money on the difference between our wholesale trade rates and the rates that are available to you. So that means that effectively all our 27 + years of experience and expertise comes at no extra cost to you.