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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Load shedding fallout: Boksburg’s power woes reflect nationwide risk

Residents suffer emotional toll and work disruption as load shedding wreaks havoc.


The knock-on effects of repeated load shedding have led to parts of Boksburg being without power for two weeks… but don’t look away, because no matter where you are, the same thing could happen to you.

Bartlett resident Tereza dos Santos said living without electricity for two weeks played havoc with her emotional state and mindset. “I am tired and totally without energy,” she said.

“One morning I woke up with a toothache, I realised I was clenching my teeth while asleep. It was that stressful.”

Dos Santos said she had to seek alternative accommodation for her 90-year-old mom who lives with her, because the stress would have been too much for her.

Extended blackout

The extended blackout not only interfered with her day-today home life, it also disrupted her workdays.

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And the impact on her mental wellness was further compounded when she was heavily criticised by fellow residents for arranging a meeting to address the challenges they faced.

Then, it was hijacked by politicians. Yet, Dos Santos said that while politicians tried to capitalise on the situation, it served its purpose by bringing people together to address the dire circumstances.

“This meeting was intended to be a cry for help. Next time the politicians will come second, and community first,” she said.

On and off causing cable failures and damage

The perpetual on and off switching necessitated by load shedding is causing frequent cable failures and damage to substations, because the cabling infrastructure in most cities and towns was not intended to cope with something as physical drastic as the load shedding switching.

In other words, no-one will be spared the possibility of a major, long-term blackout unless the cables are given a major upgrade.

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This is what Democratic Alliance councillor Simon Lapping, whose Ekurhuleni ward has been plagued by outages in Boksburg and Kempton Park, has found.

This after his investigation took him to several supply depots and he tracked down city electrical engineers who explained why so many blackouts occur for extended periods of time.

Failures and damage directly attributed to load shedding

Lapping said that, according to engineers, the frequent cable failures and concomitant damage to substations can be directly attributed to load shedding.

“Cables are not made to withstand continually being switched on and off.”

This, combined with the electrical surges post-load shedding, leads to cable damage over time.

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“When electricity is switched on after a load shedding incident, there are generally surges in the power lines. This creates spikes in the cables, which results in little cracks being formed inside the cables,” he said.

These cracks, Lapping said, are a significant issue that compounds over time due to various factors such as age, movement, and environmental conditions like moisture and rain seepage.

“With continual load shedding, these cracks develop over time. Eventually, the crack pops or, in other words, the cable bursts,” he said.

Stopgap solutions

Lapping said reactive measures taken by the municipality and likely many others, while necessary, have merely been stopgap solutions.

“Municipalities will come round and then open up the cable and they will splice it, joining it together. But that is only sustainable for a certain period of time,” Lapping warned.

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The dire consequence of these repeated temporary fixes is the eventual complete failure of the cable, necessitating its total replacement.

Lapping shared a staggering example from Boksburg, where “they’re having to replace 3 000m of cables because of this reason.”

This situation highlights the urgent need for not just reactive, but proactive measures to address the root causes of outages.

“Municipalities also have a responsibility to ensure there’s continuous maintenance and upgrades to power cables, along with the replacement of outdated infrastructure with modern technology. This is critical to withstand the pressures of load shedding,” he added.

“Officials are so desperate to improve the cable situation that they are increasing the size of cables they’re laying from 50mm to 185mm in girth.”

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