By Waseem Bahemia
Small businesses in Makhanda have suffered due to load shedding. Eskom has been holding the whole of South Africa hostage, but small businesses have been suffering the most. These people depend on their businesses for the livelihood of their families.
Small businesses have no alternatives to turn to when the power goes off as getting a generator is often too costly. Makhanda is already suffering because of a drought. Furthermore, the lack of service delivery from the municipality due to cash-flow is only making things worse. Furthermore, Eskom has threatened to cut off the power for extended hours.
Aditionally, unpaid electricity bills by the Makana municipality amount to around R85 million dating back to 2013/14. In reply to these threats, new Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa said in a statement: “We are planning to pay an amount of R12.6m to Eskom this month. We will also seek to renegotiate our payment plan to ensure that we can afford to make monthly payments to Eskom. Once this payment is made, we don’t expect Eskom to go ahead with bulk supply interruptions.”
Mayor Mpahlwa reassured the people of Makhanda that the municipality are addressing this issue with the seriousness it deserves. He further added, “Once the historic debt is settled we can then focus on our other service delivery obligations.”
Food businesses and hairdressers seemed to be affected the most. While load shedding has negatively impacted small business, it has also added to unemployment due to lack of work during power cuts. We spoke to locals about how their businesses were affected by the two-hour blackouts.
Garvey Heleni runs a coffee business at the university currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR). The building he works in does not have a generator, he is completely at the mercy of load shedding:
“We’re losing income on a lot of cups, and the fridges were leaking. We have also lost a lot of ice blocks, that we have to buy again, due to the leaking fridges. Two hours without electricity is a loss of income of around 20 cups of coffee.”
Charne Crous who runs a butchery/deli on Somerset Street said she was losing income as well:
“The load shedding has caused a decline in our sales, as all work comes to a halt. We are a butchery/deli, so we lose out on the sales of our takeaways during the day. The production of our meat products takes much longer, and that has an effect on orders and sales.”
Mrs Dullabh, who runs Lemon ‘n Spice, said that load shedding was forcing her to reduce her staff and lose money on food waste:
“We have battled with not having enough fryers to meet the demand of the lunch and dinner rush, we have had to cut down on staff due to the lack of work load, and we have been ordering less stock because the freezers cannot keep it fresh. We’ve also had to throw away food that went off. ”
Zithande Mugoti, who runs his own salon on New Street, said clients were being turned away as he could not meet his promise of quality service delivery:
“For example, after a wash you need to put someone under the dryer. But without electricity I can’t do that. Some clients have complained about headaches due to me not being able to dry their hair. I am not only getting into trouble with my clients, I am losing 10 to 15 of them a day during load shedding.”
Grahamstown Business Forum Chairperson told Grocott’s mail that many are hopeless:
“The city’s psychological state is stressed, with the strikes and service delivery failures and the drought. The loadshedding adds to that.”
He added that, during the recent regular 9-11am loadshedding, “most CBD retailers were closed. In an already very difficult trading environment, local businesses can’t afford that”.
In February, finance minister Tito Mboweni promised to bail out Eskom with R23 million a year over the next three years, which could prove catastrophic for the South African economy.
On the bright side, though, it has been almost a month without the lights going off. While the government seems to be working hard to keep the lights on, opposition parties say it is a ploy to keep the lights on until election day to retain votes. The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) shadow Minister of Finance, Alf Lees, said in a statement: “What is evident, is that the ANC government will plunge the country into debt, just to keep the lights on for the next 20 days until Election Day.”
However, a loan from the Chinese Development Bank, which has failed to come through, has added to the woes of both treasury and Eskom. Given that the agreement failed to materialise, Minister Mboweni handed Eskom R5 billion on the 2nd of April.
While huge handouts are being given to the state power utility company, energy experts warn that it is unsustainable and insufficient to save Eskom. It is alleged that treasury will have to find additional funds for Eskom at the end of this month to keep the lights on.
During a ward meeting in Johannesburg last month, Minister of Public Enterprise, Pravin Gordhan said: “It will take another 18 months or so to eventually get Eskom out into operational safety.”
As South Africans, given the dire state of the country and its economy, all we can hope for is that promises are kept this time around.