Pow­er­less in South Africa? - What to do dur­ing a black­out

As “load shedding” still stands strong in SA, electricity shortages have become my daily reality during the semester abroad. How can I continue to stay strong, too? Read on to find out what helps me make peace with everyday blackouts.

Selfie from Natalia.
Humboldt student at the University of Pretoria's climbing wall. Photo: private

Oh, load shedding, you’re such a tough opponent! Yet, I refuse to give in and try to make the best out of each of your frequent visits. In my last blog entry, I explained what it means to be cut off from power on a daily basis as an exchange student in South Africa. Today, I would like to drop a few words on what I do when the WiFi and lights in my student residence in Pretoria go out.

Firstly, a short disclaimer though: load shedding is indeed a countrywide phenomenon. Nevertheless, it doesn’t happen everywhere in South Africa. There were multiple days when I experienced a blackout in my res, but no electricity shortage happened, for example, in uMhlanga, a resort town north of Durban. There are districts that never experience any power cuts. And there are areas where planned blackouts happen basically every day – as in the Hatfield district, where the University of Pretoria (UP) is located. So you better ask, friend, before renting out that apartment for a month-long holiday. Or a whole semester abroad ;)

Keeping sane through dark times

Secondly, a word of explanation: it is possible to plan around power cuts. How? Pretty modern style: there is an official app called ESP, run by the state-owned energy company Eskom, informing about planned load shedding times for the upcoming two days. The app has been pretty accurate so far. Sometimes, very rarely though, it even provides a surprise in form of a message saying that the next blackout scheduled for today has been cancelled!

When a blackout hits, one can still keep some light in ones’ own heart. Below, I gathered a few of my personal coping strategies for when the planned darkness seems to overtake my exchange student world.

My favourite part of the Merensky library. Photo: private

Going to a library

The Merensky library, being the main UP library, is equipped with a power supply generator and offers a 24/7 study area. I’ve never been one of those people who enjoy studying at a library; I rather come to Merensky’s while on a quest for yet another iconic South African theatre play - but the option to study overnight is there.

Eating out

Most restaurants here are equipped with their own power supply generators - hence a blackout is not a big obstacle to grabbing a tasty dinner, preferably together with my housemates or other friends from the res or class. For power cuts are yet another great reason to socialize in lovely company just a little bit more.

Having a climb

TuksExploratio is a sport club at the UP, offering climbing, slacklining and other adventure activities. Club nights happen twice a week. I’ve enjoyed each evening spent with other club members on chatting and climbing at the outdoor wall. Currently, there are over 30 sports societies in existence at the UP. My housemates train gymnastics, rugby and volleyball, but one can also go for other sports, such as archery or yachting. The yearly membership fees vary depending on the club (25-90 euros).

Natalia in a swimming pool.
Cooling down in the res pool. Photo: private

Enjoying a swim

My student res offers its residents a chance to have a dive in its own swimming pool. The pool might be rather tiny, but yet big enough for a pleasant dip on a warm day. I enjoyed many of those incredibly hot Pretoria summer afternoons taking a dive just a few minutes away from my room. There are many other outdoor swimming facilities in the city, but a lot of them close for the winter season (from the end of April to October). Fortunately, our own res pool stays open even in winter, in case summer decides to come back just for a day or two.

Visiting a market

Pretoria is well known for its day and night markets. So far, I’ve visited three of them: the Boeremark and Hazel Saturday markets as well as the Deep Roots night market. I’ve enjoyed regional food, such as melkkos – which tastes similar to Milchreis, but is made out of flour. I’ve admired local crafts and arts. I have also appreciated some groovy live music. And there are still plenty of other market options to choose from.

Movie theater.
One of the local movie theatres - the luxurious kind! Photo: private

Going to the movies

Until now, I haven’t been able to find any independent cinema in Pretoria. The closest independent movie theatre seems to be the Bioscope in Johannesburg. Nevertheless, there are two commercial cinema chains (Cinecentre and Ster-Kinekor) operating in basically every bigger mall in town. But, friend, better check whether your closest movie theatre is equipped with the luxury of its own generator. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the dark way before the credits should be rolling.

On the bright side – load shedding makes sure that no one ever runs out of chit-chat topics. It can truly become an ice breaker. I’ll tell you more about it in my next blog entry. For now, sala kahle mngani wami (stay well, my friend)!

(Published 30 May 2023)