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Load-shedding in South Africa

Load shedding first happened for a few weeks in January 2008 and then again six years later in 2014 and now it is back in 2019. In the past it has only happened in the summer when air-conditioning ramps up demand. However, this time, we understand that it will be an ongoing concern for at least the next few months.

However South Africans are resilient people who ‘maak a plan’ and we are sure that this current energy shortfall will lead to innovative solutions a more careful stewardship of our energy resources.  Most likely, it will only have a minor effect on the enjoyment of your safari trip. As I write (in late March 2019) there are no more power cuts planned for this week. But it is always best to be informed and aware of the possibility.


What is Load-shedding?

This term, unique to South Africa, is more commonly known as ‘rotational blackouts’ in other countries. Quite simply, it is an engineered power shutdown where electricity is stopped for periods of time over different parts of the distribution region. It is a necessary response for a situation where electricity demand outweighs supply. This is currently the case in South Africa if a power station goes down unexpectedly.

How could this happen?

The short answer is – goodness only knows. But the longer answer is that it is as a direct result of aging power stations and poor management by South Africa’s sole electricity provider, Eskom. There has been wide-spread corruption in Eskom over a period of many years. (How that was allowed to happen is a subject for a longer and more political blog than a travel company would want to write!)

So instead of investing in vital annual maintenance and upgrades, money was diverted, at various stages throughout the organization. The issues have been acknowledged by the South African Government and steps have been taken to remedy the current situation. However, it will take time to get Eskom, and thus the country’s electricity provision, back to where it should be.


What are the logistics?

So if Eskom cannot produce the required electricity for any time period, it introduces rolling load shedding. This is divided typically into four stages. The most common is Stage 1 or 2.

Stage 1 equates to 5 power cuts (of 2 hour duration) during a week. As some are in the night-time, it equates to around 3 power cuts between 6am and 10pm per week.

Stage 2 equates to 1-2 power cuts (2 hours) per day with one being between 6am and 10pm

Stage 3 equates to 2 power cuts (2 hours) per day with 1 to 2 of them being between 6am-10pm

Last week after Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, it had a knock-on effect on South Africa’s power stations. This caused a few days of Stage 4 load-shedding. That meant 3 power cuts during each day with 2 of them between 6am and 10pm. That’s when we started to feel it…


How are Accommodation Providers dealing with Load Shedding?

South Africans are some of the most resilient and innovative people in the world. The will and desire of the South Africans to sort this out is incredible. Many suppliers have already implemented alternative sources of power to their facilities. Unfortunately the most common form of solar power is grid-tied. And that power goes off with load-shedding.  But new hybrid solar/generator models are being developed. But for now, we have to use industrial scale diesel-powered generators.

Most safari camps in remote areas already have generators as they have had power cuts due to tropical storms in the past. Similarly the use of generators means that many hotels are able to supply a near uninterrupted service supply. The numbers who can do this will only increase in the coming months.

But those that cannot are working hard to improve the guest experience in other ways.


Tips for visitors

As there is absolutely nothing we can do about the macro-situation, I shall think positively. With a bit of luck, you will only be minimally affected, or not at all.

1) Know when the power cuts are due to happen

Believe me, your hotel reception will have this etched into their brains. They will probably inform you each day. However power cut times differ between regions and even within a city. So if you are on the move, you may want to look ahead.

If you have a smartphone with you, you can download an app such as EskomSePush. Then you can be warned if and when load-shedding may affect you. This will give you an on-the-go update on current and forecast load shedding.

Or you can also look at Eskom’s own schedule on Type in the province and the area that you are going to. Then type in the town or suburb.

These two will tell you if they are load-shedding and what the stage (stage 1 to 4) is. It will show the likely load-shedding times for the next few days. But this can change  if you move from one stage to another.


2) Plan accordingly

a) Try to eat outside of load shedding times. Many restaurants have a back-up plan but you don’t know that…

b) Try to avoid non-essential longer car journeys in cities during load shedding – see traffic lights below.

c) However, counter to this, driving in the rural areas during load shedding is a good way to see the country, and not feel the need for electricity. And charge your devices at the same time.

d) Make sure that your phone and camera are fully charged prior to the power cuts.

e) The hotel or lodge will have provided extra emergency lighting in your rooms. But it will be darker than normal. So we also recommend bringing a head torch so that you can have both hands free. And keeping your phone (with its ‘torch’ app) close to your bed in case of night-time trips to the bathroom.


3) Exercise patience

The reality is that nothing works quite as it should when there is a power cut. So your room may not be ready at the usual check-in time because there was a power cut when they were due to clean the room. Or the previous guests may have opted for a later breakfast than normal and so left later.

The good news is that you are on holiday and not having to work. The hotel swimming pool doesn’t need power. Nor does a walk on the beach or a scenic drive over a mountain pass.

As this situation continues (as we understand it might), more and more suppliers will improve their back-up systems and visitors will be less affected.

Generator coverage

As this is a new phenomenon in terms of its likely duration, generator usage in hotel and guesthouse industry is patchy. Safari Camps should have generators. But in the cities large-scale generators have not been needed until now. Most large businesses such as hotels got a generator back in 2014 (during the second period of load shedding). These have now been dusted off, serviced and pressed into use. But some smaller guest lodges may not have generators as they did not really need them. Others may have smaller generators to power some services but not all.

Temporary Shortage of Generators
As you can imagine, there has been a nation-wide scramble to buy diesel generators. So much so that sizeable generators that can power a business or a lodge are not available at the moment (April 2019). However I expect this to change over the coming months. So this is a short-term phenomenon.


Changing Accommodation

As this is a variable situation, we will not be changing your hotel accommodation to hotels with generators. Especially once we are within the cancellation penalty period. As there may be no, or only very light, load shedding during your trip. The exception would be if you have a medical condition (see below) which requires constant electricity. Contact us if this is the case.

Other Factors

Traffic in Cities

Power cuts have a negative effect on traffic in the cities as some of the non-essential traffic lights do not work. This slows down the traffic as everyone has to treat the intersection as a four way stop. A four-way-stop is an unusual intersection not commonly known in Europe. Whichever car comes to the intersection first has the right of way. So slow down at any traffic lights and then wait your turn.

So, if possible, try to avoid driving during load shedding. If you must drive (to catch a plane for example) or if it’s just a short trip, allow plenty of extra time.


Most generators do NOT power lifts or elevators in hotels. So if you are someone who needs the lift, then it is again important to make a note of load shedding times. And contact us to discuss your options.

Breathing Equipment

Some people travel with a machine for sleep apnoea and need constant electricity. If this affects you, then again, please let us know.

What is Cedarberg Africa doing about it?

We remain passionate about giving our clients the best possible experience and service.  So we are actively consulting with our suppliers on their contingency plans, and service levels, during load shedding so that we can inform you if requested.

We will also start to move our business towards suppliers with the best-laid plans. Additionally, the situation will change over time as accommodation suppliers offer greener and more sustainable hybrid solutions. We are always  only a call away, even if just for reassurance.


We beat the water crisis. We can deal with this.

It is encouraging to be part of a journey towards a more sustainable and environmentally ‘green’ future in South Africa. South Africa is already a shining example to the world of how a nation pulled together in world record time to change behaviour, reduce frivolous wastage of essential water resources and become water-wise during a crisis.

Today, the words of Sir Winston Churchill; “Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste”, is implanted in the minds of all South Africans. We have a new relationship with water and are set for an incredible water-wise future. The innovations in sustainability, are exemplary. So we are sure that the innovations in alternative energy will be equally embraced.

We thank you for your understanding!