If there’s one issue South Africans can find consensus on, it’s frustration with the country’s failing electrical grid. Electricity is severed as frequently as twice a day in certain regions, hampering productivity and costing businesses revenue. “Load shedding” is the painful phrase making South Africans grimace and shudder. For them, the words mean not having electricity for as long as five hours a day. With the country welcoming tourists again post COVID-19 shutdown – the electrical crisis will likely worsen becoming an even greater nuisance for South Africans and travelers.
Eskom, the country’s power utility, says the country may experience these interruptions for the next five years so the issue isn’t going anyway. Walking through a museum while the lights shut off can be alarming for most travelers: so can being trapped. The founder of the “Black Girls Travel Too” tour group was briefly trapped inside an elevator after the electricity went down inside one of Johannesburg’s hipster hotels. She spent the remaining 11 days of her experience using the stairs at various accomodations.
We do feel particularly bad for guests like ourselves who check in during load shedding. There’s nothing quite like checking-in with pen and paper and then ascending seven flights of stairs with your luggage. Whether staying in a vacation rental or hotel, verify with the owner/management if they have functioning backup generators on premise. You will be surprised to find that most of the vacation rentals do not have a solution for keeping the lights on during load shedding. Work while travel types may find the frequent disconnection from wifi a hassle or the ability to keep a laptop charged.
Tourists love food. And restaurant kitchens rely on electricity to produce a number of items on their menus. Deep fryers, blenders, toasters, food processors, espresso machines … when the power goes out in South Africa so does a kitchen’s flexibility. Most restaurants have become nimble, offering a limited amount of dishes they can whip-up without wattage. In just a few short of weeks of travel throughout the country, our meal requests were modified on seven different occasions due to constraints caused by load shedding.
Load shedding also pose unique security risks as it can impact street and traffic lights, surveillance systems and alarms.
All this stated, you should not be deterred from traveling to South Africa as tourists. The country functions despite the utility crisis – but be prepared for the unexpected. While the electric company does publish a load shedding schedule, faulty equipment and outdated infrastructure mean there’s almost always a need for a bit more consumption than advertised.
Eric has revolved in and out of passport controls for over 20 years. From his first archaeological field school in Belize to rural villages in Ethiopia and Buddhist temples in Laos, Eric has come smile to smile with all walks of life. A writer, photographer and entrepreneur, the LA native believes the power of connectivity and community is enriched through travel.