Hundreds of people took to the streets of Johannesburg this Wednesday to protest the protracted energy crisis that has caused massive blackouts in South Africa, reports France-Presse (AFP) today, January 25.
Demonstrators gathered in the center of the financial capital of Africa's most industrialized nation to march to the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. Most of them were dressed in blue, the colors of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which organized the rally. Some held up signs reading "Enough!", "Power to the people," and "Shutdown kills jobs."
Rolling blackouts, known as "load shedding," have plagued South Africa for years as state-owned power company Eskom failed to keep up with demand and maintain its aging coal-fired infrastructure. But over the past year, power outages have become more frequent and unprecedented in scale, with lights going out several times a day, sometimes for up to 12 hours in total across the country.
About 5,000 people took part in the march in Johannesburg, which has a population of 5.5 million, police said. Several hundred ANC supporters also gathered at the party's headquarters for a "counter-demonstration".
Protests were also planned in other regions of the country, including in Cape Town.
“We have to charge our phones at certain times of the day. We have to cook at a certain time. We shouldn't live like this in South Africa,” Marino Hughes, a 22-year-old student, complained to AFP.
The shutdowns cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production, undermining national trade and industry.
“I had to close four stores and 20 people lost their jobs. And it's all because I can't run my business because of the redistribution of workload,” said Lloyd Peltier, 40, a poultry entrepreneur.
South Africa's agricultural industry authority said this week that local dairy farms are unable to store their produce in the refrigerator due to power outages.
Many have been outraged by the recent approval of a sharp increase in electricity tariffs, which debt-laden Eskom (produces more than 90 percent of South Africa's energy) says will help stabilize its financial situation.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week that people are "fed up" with the crisis that is wreaking havoc in the country, but warned that the problem cannot be solved "overnight".
At a meeting of the ANC earlier this week, the president said the government was considering importing electricity from abroad and expanding renewable energy production.