Franschhoek Load Shedding! What Load Shedding?
And so it continues. The lights remain on. They should be off according to the stage 4 load shedding schedule, yet there they are burning bright. It is the third day, the silence continues along with the lights staying on when they should be off.
Not a word of explanation has been forthcoming. Everyone, no wait, some people, are scratching their heads in puzzlement. It’s like a dream come true, a fantasy that somehow became a reality. It’s like magic. After years of load shedding, suddenly and mysteriously we are not being shed, whilst every other place is plunged into the despair of Eskom power cuts. It’s like power from heaven bestowed on South Africa’s favourite village.
One would think the villagers would be shouting with joy from the rooftops, celebrating our liberation from the darkness and powerlessness that Eskom so regularly visits upon us. But one barely hears a whisper. Perhaps the villagers, although usually a thoroughly unsuperstitious lot, are afraid to voice their amazement and joy, lest the powers that be reverse course and plunge us back into the abyss of load shedding once more, or the Eskom employee whose job it is to flip the switch, wakes up and gets back to work.
I suppose that is why there is no mention or discussion or spreading the word on social media lest our good luck or pilot project gets withdrawn. Even the “What’s On Franschhoek” Facebook group continues to publish and warn that we’ll be “Load Shedding” from 10 am to 12.30 pm. Only one person responded yesterday asking if the times were right as we still had power. Today someone said thanks. Even our well informed and highly esteemed Franschhoek Tatler Editor remained mum and did not respond to my WhatsApp message.
So here is a brief history of this mystery!
At three in the afternoon on Monday 7 March 2022, Eskom announced that Load Shedding would commence at 9 pm that evening due to some breakdowns and to replenish emergency supplies of diesel.
At 4 pm they put out a statement saying that due to added breakdowns that afternoon, the commencement of power cuts would begin at 5 pm at stage 2. Franschhoek was scheduled to be shed from 8 pm to 10.30 pm (everyone discounts the last 30 minutes as they have never cut the power for much longer than 2 hours.
And so the power went off on time. Candles were lit, emergency lights switched on, UPS switched to battery power and filling the evening air with that uniquely South African cacophony, a symphony of generators both large and small.
At 10 pm on the dot, the lights came back on, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the 2 hours of powerlessness came to an end, all glad at the restoration that dispelled the unconscious lurking fear of an all-out blackout that would plunge the country back to the stone age.
But then, around 30 minutes or so later, the lights went out again and, I am sure, a collective grumble and groan arose in the village from those still awake along with many fists shaking in the direction of Eskom headquarters. The candles were lit, emergency lights switched back on again, the UPS went back on battery power and the symphony of generators began another ode to the darkness.
I phoned the Stellenbosch Municipality’s electricity department.
After a few rings, it was answered, “hello” a lady said calmly.
I took a deep breath and in a strained, but polite, voice, explained that Franschhoek had been plunged back into the dark after power had been restored after the scheduled load shedding.
“We are aware of the problem,” she continued in a soothing voice, “a van has been sent out to investigate,” she reassured me.
There was not much more I could say so I thanked her and ended the call. About 40 minutes later the power came back on. We breathed another sigh of relief, the candles were snuffed out, the UPS began charging the batteries and the generators fell silent. We went to bed knowing that the next cut was scheduled for 4 am to 6 am on Tuesday, when the much-needed fan in the room would fall silent on a fairly warm night and some distant generator would start singing its awful song once more in the quiet before dawn.
I awoke a few minutes before 4 am and lay there waiting for the inevitable, expecting the fan to stop at any moment. The fan kept turning. I consulted my clock, it was ten after four. I tossed and turned, surely any minute now, but still, the fan kept turning keeping those dreaded mosquitoes away. I looked at the time again, twenty after four and then thirty minutes after four.
The power never cut. I thought that maybe because we had a power failure straight after a Load Shed the powers that be who had control of the power switch had had mercy on us. Grateful that the fan was still on I drifted back to sleep.
The next scheduled power cut, as we were still on stage 2 load shedding, was from 2 am to 4 pm so we had the power all day on Tuesday. Again that night I awoke. The fan was still running so I thought that the power cut had not happened yet. I looked at the clock, it was 2.30 am, the power should have been off. I opened the Eskom Se Push app on the phone thinking that load shedding must have been suspended. Far from it, Eskom had upped it to stage 4 and the app said we were 30 minutes into our scheduled power cut, but the fan was running, the street lights were on.
The thoughts swirled through my head keeping me awake as the air swirled through the fan keeping the mozzies at bay. Something had happened that had never happened before through the fifteen years of load shedding history, they had not cut the power for a scheduled load shed, not just once, but twice in a row and through what was now a stage 4 situation.
The next morning Jo and I wondered about it. The big test was scheduled outage from 10 to 12. This was the first daytime power cut since we had noticed the “no load-shedding during load-shedding times”. At two minutes past ten, I proclaimed that they would not cut the power. Jo said it was still too early to call and we should wait. At 15 minutes past, I knew they were not going to cut the power.
By now, though delighted, I was also frustrated. The question of why there was no load shedding happening in Franschhoek was begging for an answer. I googled it and found numerous articles from late January 2021 regarding Stellenbosch Municipality’s determination to become the first municipality without load shedding. Below is a link to the statement on Stellenbosch’s official website:
So I thought that maybe this was Stellenbosch’s first test. Jo’s brother Mark who lives in Stellenbosch told us they were still load shedding his area and others confirmed that all areas in Stellenbosch’s center and suburbs were having power cuts. So I surmised that Franschhoek, being the least populated of Stellenbosch’s wards was a test case.
So I went off to the municipal office in Franschhoek. I asked them why we were not getting the scheduled power cuts. They said that they did not know and that Eskom was responsible for implementing the power cuts, that Eskom flicked the switch off and on. But why would Eskom, do such a thing as let off Franschhoek from their load shedding routine in a stage 4 situation.
So I told them my theory, mentioning the article above, that in the unscheduled power cut after the first load shedding on Monday night the Stellenbosch municipality cut the power, went and put in a bypass for Franschhoek, as a test case, according to the plans envisioned when passing the above resolution. This set them off giggling and laughing in a manner that spoke more of “Ah you’ve caught us out” rather than “you’re crazy” Still they were adamant that Eskom was responsible for load shedding and they had no answer for me.
So, the next tester was the 6 pm to 8 pm slot that very evening. Sure enough, the electricity stayed on through that slot and the next and also this morning slot from 10 to 12. Now some have accused me of being a conspiracy theorist anti shedder (think anti-vaxxer). They assured me that Stellenbosch management is not capable of such a thing and will not be for years to come, that politicians are all talk and no action and cannot be trusted.
Still, the power stays on here whilst the rest of the country suffers shedding. Apart from the Eskom employee having memory lapses or away on holiday with the keys or is simply not capable of throwing a switch, what other answer can there be. There has to be a reasonable explanation and no one is giving one or any explanation whatsoever. And no, the villagers are not shouting from the rooftops either.