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For many months before my father died at home long ago, his most constant bedside companion was an oxygen cylinder. This was attached to a breathing apparatus that helped keep him alive.
Having witnessed that struggle close-up, I am deeply moved each time there’s a report of someone dying during a power outage because their oxygen supply could not function without electricity. One such death happened in my ward a few years back and another occurred nearby last week.
Death by power outage is a reality in other ways too, including fires started when candles and gas appliances go awry.
There will never be a true record of how many deaths in South Africa can be linked to rolling blackouts, planned and unplanned. It’s unlikely anyone will be held to account, least of all the Zuptas, whose grand theft entrenched the dark ages.
We can justifiably rail against Eskom and City Power. But how about this? Picture one of those light bulbs that is used to symbolise a new idea. We can whinge about corruption and incompetence.
Yet, until the light of fresh perception flashes in the collective mind of the electorate, electricity supply will deteriorate. Guaranteed.
We needn’t wait for elections. Nor must we metaphorically anticipate our “ship coming in”, where that means we suddenly become rich.
Some crooks will wax wealthy from the carbon-belching Turkish power-ships set to plug into our national grid for the next 20 years. But at micro level, we can be smarter, and environmentally cleaner, if we invest incrementally in solar power at home. Prices are coming down.
Solar is cheaper than City Power or Eskom. A small inverter can be more reliable too, which is vital when lives are at stake.
Joburgers are enduring crisis-level electricity outages.
Across City Power’s eight depots – Alexandra, Hursthill, Lenasia, Midrand, Randburg, Reuven, Roodepoort and Seimert – there were 5 880 “open calls” yesterday morning. And too few staff to cope.
The worst-hit depot was Hursthill, with 2 216 open calls and only six teams. Work outstanding increases daily as there aren’t enough people to keep up with new outages, many caused by frequent switching off-and-on of old City Power equipment. All this is exacerbated by cold weather.
Truly, now is the winter of our discontent in Joburg. You know the power will go off, mostly according to schedules. But Eskom load shedding stages and City Power block timetables don’t tell the whole story.
Yesterday morning, 3 895 of the open calls were older than 24 hours. We have cases where people have been without power for more than a week and some beyond 10 days.
Where life-supporting oxygen is dependent on electricity supply, those with a duty of care must ensure back-up. There are inexpensive options. And life is not cheap. Let us curse the City and Eskom.
But have we, as family and community, taken enough care to keep the frail alive when power fails?