Johanna van Eeden
3 minute read
19 Jan 2008

Power cuts do make you nuts

Johanna van Eeden

THE psychological impact of the electricity blackouts has led to heightened levels of aggression, frustration and impotence across the country, and Eskom has warned that there’s still no end to the misery.

THE psychological impact of the electricity blackouts has led to heightened levels of aggression, frustration and impotence across the country, and Eskom has warned that there’s still no end to the misery.

According to clinical psychologist Johan Visser, the first thing his patients do when they lie on his couch is to rage about the latest power cut. They complain about how long they’ve been caught in traffic, how their lives are being disrupted, how powerless they feel and the impact it’s all having on their wallets.

“If you already have a history of depression, this will make you more vulnerable. If you have no history, the likelihood of depression becomes more likely than it would otherwise.”

Visser said the blackouts lead to people’s coping mechanisms becoming exhausted.

“We are confronted on so many levels by things we have no control over. There is insecurity over crime, politics is unsettling, and there are the high interest rates. Someone else basically makes the decisions about your life.’’

He said it is the unpredictability of the blackouts that upsets people, because it is human nature to want to know what the future holds.

The consequence is that the energy that would otherwise be used to solve problems at work or at home must now be harnessed to overcome frustration.

South Africans are already known as a violent nation, and Visser predicts an increase in domestic violence because people will seek a safety valve from the day’s electricity frustrations.

“These blackouts are like a wave of aggression and frustration that is out of control.”

Visser reckons that if Eskom stuck to the blackout schedules, frustration levels would drop because people would be able to plan around them.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) yesterday called on Eskom to communicate properly with the public about planned power cuts.

In a statement, the SAHRC said it and the Public Protector could soon work together on an investigation to find out why there were so many power cuts.

Earlier this week, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana told Eskom he was considering investigating the power cuts because of the devastating effect they are having on government’s service delivery.

The SAHRC said: “The commission is concerned about news reports that load shedding, as it is currently being implemented by Eskom, is negatively affecting the provision of essential services and by extension human rights.”

Cosatu said it shares people’s anger at the disruption to their lives and the economic fall-out caused by power cuts.

“It has become a national embarrassment and could have a major impact on economic growth and job creation,” said Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven.

Of particular concern were reports saying poorer communities were exposed to longer power cuts than affluent suburbs because the wealthier suburbs have better access to the media to complain.

Craven said Eskom is not to blame for the crisis, however.

“They [Eskom] warned the government years ago that they needed money to invest in new power stations, and applied to the government for this.

“But the government refused to provide the money, which President [Thabo] Mbeki has now admitted and apologised for,” said Craven.

Sapa reports that power cuts are expected to continue over the weekend and into next week. Eskom said yesterday there is a “high possibility of load shedding over the weekend, as the electricity system is extremely tight”.

“All South Africans need to pull together and save electricity because every little bit counts,” it said.

Eskom said it is working with municipalities and regional disaster management committees to co-ordinate scheduling of the power cuts.

“We hope this will assist in minimising the inconvenience caused on the roads, and improve our forewarning to electricity consumers. We are also taking into account suggestions from consumers.”

Consumers can view where it plans to cut power on its website Alternatively, they can find details on municipal websites, or contact the Eskom call centre on 086 003 7566.

• eThekweni’s

website address is, and the Msunduzi one is