Load shedding is defined as ‘action to reduce the load on something, especially the interruption of an electricity supply to avoid excessive load on the generating plant.’

In contrast, loadshedding (pronounced hastily, with aggravation and an implied curse) is South African parlance for Eskom’s ineptitude, evidence of the ANC’s corruption and verification that South Africa is on a steady course towards becoming a Third World country.

The typical Westerner has no concept of what it’s like to live without electricity for 4-6 hours in a day, and yet this dilemma is exactly what South Africans of all creeds and classes have been faced with since Q4 of 2018. The majority of South Africans have weathered the inconvenience bravely and with little complaint. Those who hail from the rural areas – where electricity remains a novelty – have noted their amusement about their urban counterparts’ mewling with regards to the loss of power.

It is not uncommon to hear an exasperated caller on SAFm’s open lines point out that “We grew up without electricity. What is the big deal?” and to have that caller reminded that the South African economy’s growth is heavily dependent on a regular and reliable supply of power. In a country where a fair number of elementary school aged children still face the risk of drowning pit latrines, phrases like “economic engine”, “artificial intelligence” and “global stage” mean very little. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that South Africa needs to get under control, and quickly. Experts say that load shedding costs the economy R2billion ($144M) daily.

As most of you know, I grew up in Ghana, West Africa, where we in the city have never enjoyed neither a reliable nor regular supply of electricity. Our provincial countrymen are far more fortunate than us in this way. It’s very rare to experience blackouts (what we call dumsor) in the villages, because the demand is so low. Aspiring politicians don’t bother to run on issues like electricity and water in Ghanaian villages, because few people have indoor plumbing and their never miss their favorite TV shows. The city is a horse of six or more different colors. Accra remains the commercial and administrative center of the nation, so when the power goes out here, all commerce is retarded. I have felt that pain; it still echoes within me. This is why I am better prepared for loadshedding than the rest of my family.

Oh, I wish you could see them.

The kids have educated themselves about the various stages of Eskom’s timetable, stages 1-4. Stage 1 means that the power will only be cut off once in a day, usually for 2 hours. Stage 4 means that there will be no electricity for four (sometimes five) separate portions of the day, also for 2 hours at a time. (There’s a joke that says Stage 7 is when Eskom comes to your house and blows out your candle.) The children jubilate when they hear the refrigerator kick back into action. They run to the nearest outlet to recharge their devices. They work themselves into a near nervous breakdown if they fail to do so before the next round of loadshedding hits. I try not to laugh, but I generally fail.

I also enjoy listening to white South Africans complain about loadshedding. As far as they are concerned, the power utility’s incompetency is proof that the ANC is ruining the country for selfish gain. Never mind that Eskom was unregulated for years under the apartheid regime or that infrastructure was built primarily to service the white minority or Blacks in close enough proximity to them. It doesn’t matter that Eskom was never structured to service an entire nation. The way some of the folks I’ve spoken to see it, loadshedding is a ploy to destroy white owned businesses and force white South Africans out of their country. It’s a conspiracy theory I have yet to form an appropriate response to.

We are taught by bible scholars and motivational speakers alike that it’s not the challenges in our lives that matter, but how we rise to meet them that does. In general, South Africans have responded to this challenge with humor, which I think is a testimony to their tenacity. As for us, when we have to eat our dinner in darkness, I don’t refer to it as a power outage; I call it “mood lighting”. And when the kids are forced to play a game of Uno rather than watch the same episodes of the same 3 shows on Cartoon Network, I call that a win.

Have you ever gone 24 hours without electricity? (Besides camping and other self inflicted forms of punishment.) How did you handle it?