July 16th, 2010
03:38 PM GMT
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I am tapping this out on my blackberry, in the shadow of candlelight.

The lights have gone out in my neighborhood.

Rolling power cuts were all too common in 2008. So much so, we installed a generator in our back garden. We have hardly used it – it is an obnoxious piece of machinery that belches noise and pollution.

I prefer to stick out the three hours (that is the average, almost always starting early evening just as you start feeding and bathing the children) with candles, head-torches and our gas stove.

In fact, the quietness, the gentle candlelight flickering and the forced relaxation is actually quite enjoyable.

However, these power cuts are symptomatic of a very real threat to South Africa's economic growth. The power infrastructure is woeful, so much so that the World Bank recently agreed to loan South Africa $3.75 billion to build a new coal power station.  Much to the horror of many people who believe South Africa should be working towards more a greener energy supply.

Currently 95 percent of South Africa's electricity comes from coal, according to the government.

The truth is that the blackouts my neighborhood is currently experiencing are just a minor inconvenience for domestic homes. The real damage is to heavy industry – particularly mining – that relies on a regular uninterrupted supply of power.

Beyond heavy industry, nearly all businesses have been hurt by South Africa’s haphazard electricity supply, from the road-side hairdresser who cannot switch on his electric razor to the restaurant who cannot serve hot meals.

From the smallest entrepreneur to the largest multinational company,  investment opportunities are curtailed and growth is threatened by the lack of constant energy for sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy.

Change may be coming in the next few years when the new coal power station kicks into action but that doesn't quieten the debate about how South Africa needs to address its electricity sourcing in the long term.

Less dependency on coal and better planning, say the experts.



soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Doug

    I think Robyn needs to state where she is as this sounds like a local electrical problem rather than 'running out of power'.

    I live in Cape Town and whilst it is true that 2008 now painful, have not experienced power cuts since. Jhb on the other had has some local distribution issues hence the power cuts, but this is not running out of power

    having said that, SA left reinvestment of power to one utility, and now is opening up a bit late so next 5 years will be tight. But I would like to add there is a lot happening – as normal SA does react

    Robyn, check out what NERSA, DoE and Eskom is doing with regard to ensuring we have supply

    July 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  2. Lara

    I am reading this in South Africa in my bedroom in my apartment in Johannesburg. As I am connected to the internet, with a light bulb above my head in front of the heater (it is winter here – a bit chilly). Perhaps, I should put the kettle on and make myself a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. I should switch on the radio or TV – perhaps put in a DVD. All with South African electricity! Ha, ha.

    July 18, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  3. Martin

    Sounds like your electricity cuts are as a result of an incompetent local council or theft of cabling etc. and not electricity generation. Where I live and work we have not had an electricity cut in years.
    Please... don't fall into the trap of sweeping generalisation. It's a sign of an exceptionally poor journalist.

    July 19, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  4. isee nightly

    So the power shortages seem to be a re- enactment of the power shortages that the u.s.a experienced in the past.
    Could this also be a ploy to raise electricity tarrifs . I wonder......

    July 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  5. Oladipo Akinyemi Omole

    You can say that again Robyn. Poor power supply is plaguing most African countries except probably Ghana which is reported to have achieved an enviable power supply capacity.
    The story is worse in Nigeria which has failed to achieve its goal of generating at least 6,000 Mega Watts of electricity largely due to corruption.The Obasanjo government pumped an enormous amount of money into the power sector and nothing came out of it.
    With this situation of things it's very difficult ,if not impossible to achieve the much needed rapid economic development in Nigeria and the rest of Africa except foreign investors can be convinced or are convinced that an investment in power supply in Africa is or will be viable. Cheers

    July 24, 2010 at 3:20 am |
  6. zimbaman

    i think cnn is confusin South Africa with Zimbabwe. Yep, in zim there is hap hazard tic tac electro generation and cables are often stolen ... not south africa as of yet

    July 27, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  7. Annette

    Dear CNN,

    I have billions of dollars to invest in Africa but not in the power sector. Please advise me of any country in Africa especially Sub-Saharan with stable power supply greater than or equal to South African's. I am desperately looking forward to you response.

    Yours sincerely,

    Business Investor
    http://www.myeexpert.com

    July 31, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  8. Oladipo Akinyemi Omole

    Robyn,
    The only stumbling block in the way of efficient power supply and distribution in Africa is sentiment.Governments in Africa generally don't want to relinquish their hold on power supply,because they believe that they are losing a national asset if they allow foreign expertise to compete.
    It's defeatist.African countries generally need functional and efficient power supply to power their manufacturing sectors .Companies in these sectors spend huge amounts on generating electricity.This has crippled many firms.Industrial development and manufacturing unfortunately can't thrive under that arrangement.It's still a challenge and an opportunity waiting to happen for investors.It's worth exploring.
    Thank you

    August 3, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  9. val

    I dont understand why some posters are denying the power cuts???

    August 3, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Johan

    What can i say, the photo in this article are phone lines an not power lines.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  11. S.African

    @Robyn. You are dangerously over-generalising. Get your facts straight coz your articles sounds like gullible and gutter journalism.

    August 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  12. Spock_rhp, Miami, FL

    could be worse, lads, could be worse. Up in Iraq not only was the electricity infrastructure destroyed by war, and then the rebuilding savaged by corruption, but the people expect to get power for free and many refuse to pay or disconnect the meter or both.

    Lots of government owned electric utilities in second world countries have this problem collecting from their clients ...

    August 15, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  13. Taariq

    Help save the environment...start with your own home. Visit http://www.eco-insulation.co.za for useful tips. Style your home and make it environment friendly. Insulate your home and keep it cool in summer and warmer in winter. Please spread the message.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

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