LOAD-SHEDDING

If you are not a South African, you will probably find it difficult to understand that the national power provider (Eskom) is not always able to provide sufficient power for the whole country’s needs and so they switch the power off! This has been going on for some years now: usually we are given some warning – we even get a schedule of the times during which we will have no power, although we cannot tell whether or not this is going to be implemented at stage one or two or three as the situation can change at any time. What makes it worse in our town is that so little maintenance is done here that when the wind blows strongly, branches fall across power lines or cables snap and the call goes out on the local WhatsApp groups “surely this isn’t load-shedding?” and the battle begins to get the municipal electricians to get on with the job of restoring the power.

Eskom has given us a respite for several months and then the dreaded load-shedding returned with a vengeance. On a typical day we could have no power from eleven in the morning until half past one in the afternoon and then again from seven until half past nine in the evening on the same day! Okay, there are days now and then when the power is off for only one session.

Last night our president was scheduled to address the nation at eight o’clock about changes to our lockdown conditions. The press had been buzzing with speculation about us getting more ‘breathing space’ in terms of restrictions being lifted. It happened to be a very cold night and I was ensconced under a blanket, had a cup of tea at the ready and was knitting as the scheduled time drew closer. Tick, tick, tick … at three minutes to eight the power went off!

“No guys, do we seriously have load-shedding now?” pinged the first message on the group – the country had been assured there would be no load-shedding over the weekend.

“Anyone else have a power failure right now?” So the messages pinged in, one after the other.

“The Fire Department [whom we contact after hours about such emergencies] says they don’t know what is wrong but the electrician will investigate.” There is some comfort in that.

“It’s a widespread outage, not load-shedding [various other suburbs are mentioned]”. Good, at least we are not the only ones.

I scrabbled around for a motley collection of candles so that I could resume my knitting. This is what they looked like shortly before the power was restored exactly an hour later.

So, we missed the president’s speech here and had to wait for news updates to learn that as from midnight tomorrow we will at last (since March) be able to enjoy family visits [not too often though, comes the official caution], and to purchase alcohol and tobacco products. Another positive sign is the opening of provincial borders as well as pubs and restaurants [the finer details of the latter two are still to be clarified]. It proved to be a dark hour with double light at the end: electricity and good news [or better than usual news] for a change!

BLACKOUTS

BLACKOUTS

South Africa is beset with rolling blackouts, thanks to ESKOM’s inability to provide a steady supply of electricity to serve the whole country’s needs at the same time. This is not the forum in which to rant and rave or to dwell on the whys and wherefores of the situation. Suffice it to say that having no electricity at odd times of the day is something we have had to become used to and make the best of.

On the lighter side, the lack of power has naturally made ESKOM the butt of many jokes. A lovely video clip has done the rounds depicting everything from hair dryers to photocopy machines running on gas – a sense of humour is essential here. Circulated via e-mail too is the cover of a recipe book purporting to be from ESKOM. Tongue-in-cheek, it depicts in some versions a fire, braai grid, meat and tongs – no electricity required!

Braaing runs in the blood of many South Africans. A good place to witness this is in the Kruger National Park, where every campsite and chalet has braai facilities. The major picnic areas have gas braais for hire – they are well used too for cooking anything from early morning breakfasts to lunches in the middle of the afternoon. An aroma I always associate with these places is the sizzling of boerewors, sosaties and steaks.

There is a memorably distinctive sweet smell emanating from the local hardwoods used for real braai fires in the rest camps – still the preferred method for cooking meat (and a surprising array of other dishes) outdoors.

As darkness descends across the veld and the first of a myriad of stars begin to twinkle overhead, pinpricks of light appear all over the camping area. Flames flicker at first, then long fiery tongues take hold of the wood. Conversations brighten along with the flames. At last the coals are ready … the feasting begins.

And at home? Braais continue to be popular. Kitchen makeovers have increasingly included gas hobs at least, and even non-campers have taken to owning a portable gas cooker of one kind or another. Candles are evident in every home. At times camping and outdoor shops have run out of supplies of lamps – the demand for them is so great. Torches are kept handy.

This morning our ‘load-shedding’ was between 9 and 11:30, which was not too bad for breakfast was over by then. As wielding an iron, washing machine, vacuum cleaner or computer was temporarily out of the question, I used the opportunity to soak up the mild sunshine in the garden while enjoying watching birds with a clear conscience.
The garden is lit up by a swathe of yellow canary creepers, bright orange Cape honeysuckles, orangey-red aloes, pink hibiscus, and pale blue Plumbago blossoms.

What a delight. Of course this is very different when ESKOM switches off our power at night!