South Africa’s Power Outages Create National Emergency

We are headed to South Africa in in a few weeks to check on a business we’re involved with. See the note below from a reader in South Africa, courtesy of our friend Jim Kunstler, showing how the country may have already entered it’s Peak Oil “Long Emergency.” And make sure to check out Jim’s book by the same name if you haven’t already.

“South Africa has been flung full tilt into a Premature Long Emergency,” Jim Kunstler’s correspondent writes.

“In the up market suburbs, not least to say generally all over the urban landscape, there is not a 1km (1/2 mile) strip of tarred road that is not full of potholes (huge gapping holes, across which vehicles cannot drive), the roadside curbs are disintegrating, the road maintenance programmes over the last 10 years have failed to maintain the roads in a serviceable and passable state.

“The nation is gripped in a crisis of rolling power outages caused by the incompetence of highly paid government ministers and their charges. The news of the weekend is that the nation is in dire straits with the supply of clean, drinkable water to households and business alike. We are faced with unusual weather patterns, floods at the moment, high rain fall for the Summer, the expectation of an early, long cold Winter.

“The rolling power outages are resulting in about a 25% national power outage per month. The ramifications of this can be related directly to an income loss of the same amount, retail supplies are being interrupted and from a security point of view it is dangerous to shop in malls. The Electricity Supply Commission – ESKOM are indicating a forced reduction on power usage by 10%, further, the mines have been told not to work on Fridays.

“There are revenue and cost implications here that extend beyond the obvious monthly figures. What of the power saving measures that may in turn lead to greater problems, the mines are unable to pump excess ground water from the shafts, the maintenance programmes are due to suffer. And what of the safety indications, miners are protesting the possibility of being caught under ground or in lift shafts as the random power cuts hit the service grids.

“It is not only that ESKOM have not maintained or expanded their operations in the last 15 years, but the next big whammy is that there is no coal to keep the power stations running…at most times, there is a couple of months supply of coal onsite for electricity operations, today there is hardly a few days supply. Incidentally the reason given for this catastrophe is that the trucks delivering the coal have been unable to get to the power stations as the road infrastructure has deteriorated- potholes again. In the Afrikaans language: ‘slaggate’ – a direct translation to ‘slaughter holes’. As this is written, we wait for the next couple of days to see the effect of the ‘coal emergency’.

“At some point the effect of the power emergency on water and sanitation supply should be considered and this would be part of the roll out of unexpected events resultant of the collapse of the power supply, but the water board have usurped the power supply with homegrown problems of their own…

“So here we have it, 43% of the dams have safety problems and are in danger of collapsing. Further to this, the ground water in Gauteng, the province of Johannesburg, has radioactive contamination from mining operations.

“Now, as a matter of interest, Johannesburg is one of the few cities in the world that is built on a hill and water has to be pumped up into the city!!!

“And what of the people’s reaction? Complacency does not even come close, the nation is either brain dead or ignorant, or just plain ‘frog in a pot’ of water with the temperature rising.

“The first reaction to the power emergency took the form of a rush for candles, refilling of gas bottles and the purchasing of generators (if you could get them). Then the complacency set it, business learnt to sit through power outages, retail shops were forced to close their doors for a few hours a day. There was and is a shortage of food supplies, food went bad in the fridges and had to been thrown away. It was kind of charming in a strange kind of way, to eat dinner by candle light and forgo the ‘soapies’ on TV. Traffic lights were out over a large number of suburbs and delays in getting to business meetings became the norm.

“The schools are unable to teach a full day’s lesson. The internet service providers and the mobile phone companies’ frequently have service delays or are just plain ‘off line’. The battery runs out on your laptop and that’s the days productive work is over until the power is back on…Patients in ICU or undergoing operations, as the power grid went down, were at risk of and did, die.

“As we head into February, it will be interesting to see the economic figures; theoretically the revenue generation for the period should be down by at least 25% or something similar to the power outage percentages. Notwithstanding that the stock market took a bend downwards and followed the USA crash and the antics of the Societ General rogue trader. (Well done on the foresight, James). The South African property market is following suit, as well.

“And just as we were wondering how the effect, implications and opinions of an emergency would pan out into daily life, what the tell tail signs would be… it happened, all of this is the short space of about 2-3 weeks, the realization dawns that it has begun, the country is experiencing and living through the beginning of the Long Emergency, rather unexpectedly and certainly too prematurely.

“I proffer that the events in South Africa, tragic as they are, as they play themselves out, will give a good indication of the events that the USA and other countries will realize in the years to come as The Long Emergency’ comes to pass.

“[Ha! Just as I finish this, guess what… the power is out, the battery life in my laptop is about 5 mins, so at 11am, I cannot be productive for the rest of the day… the networks are down, so this cannot be mailed for the moment.]”

Dan Denning
Markets and Money

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

Leave a Reply

1 Comment on "South Africa’s Power Outages Create National Emergency"

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

oh common, you guys didnt see this coming?
stone age here we come… woo hoooo

Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to