by Conor Walsh & Sofeeyah Lloyd
If you’re planning an international event or conference in South Africa right now, you’re probably reading a lot of scary news stories about the country’s loadshedding crisis. You might be wondering if you’re going to be plunged into darkness the moment you arrive, as rolling power cuts leave venues, hotels, and entire neighborhoods without power for days on end.
Well, we’re here to assure you that it’s not that bad. We’ve been organizing and attending events in South Africa through every stage of loadshedding. And we have numerous team members on the ground in cities across the country who continue to work with minimal disruption.
One of those team members is writing to you from Johannesburg. With his lights on and Wi-Fi running smoothly. So, in this quick guide we’re going to answer your biggest concerns about loadshedding, including:
- What is loadshedding, and why is it happening?
- How is the South African government, business community, and public responding?
- How will loadshedding affect your event?
- The steps you can take to reduce any potential disruptions
If you still have any questions or concerns after reading this article, or you’re thinking of hosting an event in South Africa, get in touch. We’ll answer every question and provide you with the most up-to-date information.
What is loadshedding, and why does it happen?
Loadshedding is introduced when a country’s power stations are unable to keep up with the demand for electricity, leading to temporary deliberate shutdowns of power in isolated areas.
The strategy was developed in countries with limited power generation capacity that had to respond to rapidly escalating energy demands.
By cutting off power to certain parts of the electricity grid – thus reducing overall consumption and strain on the infrastructure – an energy provider reduces the risk of total collapse of the power grid. Also, by occasionally stopping the supply to households, small businesses, office buildings, event venues, and other “non-essential” energy consumers, it’s less likely that power supply to critical facilities – hospitals, government buildings, defense, etc, – will be disrupted.
Loadshedding is a necessary yet hugely inconvenient measure that mitigates the complete collapse of South Africa’s entire electricity grid, which could result in devastating, prolonged, and unpredictable nationwide blackouts.
Instead, the country’s energy provider, Eskom, is trying to reduce the pressure by introducing loadshedding in specific areas on a fixed schedule – which it announces in advance so that, in theory, people can prepare for any disruption.
When did loadshedding start in South Africa?
South Africa has been experiencing loadshedding in some form since 2007, due to its aging power plants (which rely heavily on coal and diesel), lack of long-term energy investment and maintenance of the grid, and South Africa’s explosive post-Apartheid economic growth.
However, the severity of loadshedding has increased rapidly in recent years. Energy blackouts became a daily reality for most South Africans in 2019 and a true crisis in early 2023. The rapid escalation of loadshedding and rapid deterioration of South Africa’s energy infrastructure are most commonly blamed on a toxic cocktail of government inaction, corruption, business groups and lobbyists in the coal industry, and (increasingly) sabotage and theft of infrastructure like copper wires.
Events outside Africa have also exasperated the crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, global inflation, and the Ukraine-Russia war – all of which have increased the cost of living and commodities, strained global supply chains, and increased the burden on governments in developing nations like South Africa.
Loadshedding “Stages” Explained
When reading about loadshedding in South Africa, you’ll see lots of people referring to stages – for example, as of May 2023, much of the country is experiencing Stage 6 loadshedding, with the constant risk of jumping to Stage 8 looming over everyone’s head.
In the simplest terms, each stage represents an escalation in loadshedding, and an extension of the resulting power outages. At each stage, the length of power cuts increases, as well as the number of consumers without power.
Eskom determines which stage of loadshedding to implement based on the level of electricity demand and the supply of electricity available. The stages of loadshedding in South Africa are as follows:
% of energy users impacted
Outage occur 6hrs over 4 days; 2 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
Outages occur 12hrs over 4 days; 2 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
Outages occur 18hrs over 4 days; 2 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
occur 24hrs over 4 days; 3 times a day; 3 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
outages occur 30hrs over 4 days; 3 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
Outages occur 36hrs over 4 days; 3 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
Outages occur 42hrs over 4 days; 4 times a day; 2:30hrs each time
Eskom estimates that the average South African will be supplied with electricity just 50% of the time, with connections turned off for 12hrs out of every 24hrs.
At the time of writing, most of South Africa is experiencing Stage 6 loadshedding. This means you should expect electricity to be cut three times per day, usually in the mornings, evenings, and middle of the night (when everyone is home and demand spikes).
But keep reading to see what steps you can take to reduce the impact on your event.
How is the South African Government Responding to Loadshedding?
Unfortunately, the only solution to stopping loadshedding is a massive, long-term investment in drastically improving South Africa’s electricity infrastructure. This will be a multi-decade endeavor that could cost $28 billion over the next few years alone.
So, in the short term, the government has mostly been responding defensively, scrambling to ensure loadshedding doesn’t escalate beyond Stage 6 and critical services like hospitals remain operational.
In February 2023, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national “state of disaster” over the crisis to speed up the government’s response – however, this was revoked two months later due to lawsuits. The government also appointed its first-ever “Minister for Electricity” in March 2023 with the sole mandate to tackle the crisis.
Other measures have included:
- Trying to rapidly improve the performance of existing power stations across South Africa
- Rolling out massive national renewable energy and battery storage projects that should go live by 2024
- Making it easier for small businesses and households to procure and install rooftop solar panels
- In some cases, local governments taking matters into their own hands to become energy-independent from the national grid
Sadly, while all of this is happening, warnings of imminent Stage 8 and Stage 10 loadshedding are becoming increasingly common. So, while South Africa will eventually emerge from the crisis, some very dark days lie ahead.
How are South African people and businesses responding?
While the South African government struggles to respond to the rapidly escalating energy crisis, residents and businesses have taken measures to become more energy independent.
Most businesses and households that can afford to have installed solar panels, backup generators, and small inverters as backup power supplies during outages.
The best conference venues in South Africa have invested heavily in ensuring that loadshedding has almost zero impact on events. Backup power kicks in instantly the moment loadshedding starts, and critical facilities like Wi-Fi and air conditioning continue operating throughout.
Many hotels, guesthouses, and even Airbnb hosts have installed generators and inverters. In the case of smaller guesthouses and Airbnbs, these might only be powerful enough to keep some lights on, but at least you won’t be in complete darkness.
Shopping malls, business centers, and some office buildings have done such a good job at responding, you’d be forgiven for thinking loadshedding never happens.
With no end to loadshedding in sight for at least a few years, businesses will continue to re-invest in more reliable power supplies and backup solutions, becoming more efficient and capable of responding to extended periods with power.
How will loadshedding affect your event?
If you’re planning an event or conference in South Africa, and you’ve been reading about the energy crisis, you’re probably imagining the worst case scenario.
However, the on-the-ground situation is not as bad as you’re expecting. The impact of loadshedding has not been evenly distributed across the country, with some areas and businesses less affected than others.
For example, many districts and neighborhoods have been exempted from loadshedding entirely, due to their importance to South Africa’s economy and concentration of government buildings or critical infrastructure. These include Cape Town CBD, Sandton CBD in Johannesburg, and many parts of Pretoria.
If you want to avoid loadshedding completely, we suggest staying in one of these areas.
Similarly, South Africa’s best event and conference venues and international hotels have invested heavily in reducing the disruption caused by loadshedding, including installing state-of-the-art backup generators and Wi-Fi infrastructure.
However, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Loadshedding can impact internet networks, which means Wi-Fi and 4G might slow down during blackouts, even in places with backup power. This can also impact businesses using electronic POS payment systems.
- Transport, including trains and airports, may experience delays during periods of intense loadshedding.
- Expect queues at ATMs in the evenings, as people can’t access money during blackouts and scramble to withdraw once power is restored, before returning home.
- Even buildings with backup power will experience some momentary disruption during loadshedding. If all the lights go out, just wait a minute for the generator to kick in.
- Traffic snarl ups are increasingly common, especially if load-shedding occurs at rush hour, and traffic lights are turned off. But don’t worry, South African drivers have adapted quickly, and accidents are rare.
- Crime has increased in some areas – especially at night, and against motorists. However, it’s still very isolated, and if you’re using Uber or taxis, your driver will know what precautions to take.*
- Organized protests have also increased in response to the energy crisis and overlapping issues (like the cost of living crisis). These are mostly peaceful, and announced in advance, so you know which areas will be disrupted.
While all that sounds quite scary, if you’re organizing an event or conference in South Africa, you won’t experience much disruption. You might not even notice it happening, businesses have adapted so well.
Numerous members of the Hallpax team are based in, or have been taking extended trips to South Africa and have had fantastic, stress-free experiences even during daily outages.
*You’ll be amazed at how concerned South Africans are for your safety. South Africans go out of their way to ensure visitors to the country never experience any trouble – advising on areas to avoid, escorting you to Ubers, providing safe spaces to use your phone on the street, and warning you if you’re in any danger of being robbed.
Practical steps to avoid disruption from loadshedding
While you’ll most likely be insulated from the worst effects of loadshedding during your event, we still suggest taking certain measures to minimize potential disruption while organizing an event or conference in South Africa.
- Choose hotels and event venues in the Cape Town CBD or Sandton CBD. Event Venues in this area are either exempt from loadshedding or have invested in backup power generators.
- Choose accommodations with backup power. If you’re recommending or booking accommodations for your event participants at different hotels, contact them before you make your block reservation to confirm they have a generator.
- Google the load-shedding schedule in your area and you’ll see when power outages are expected.
- Download the ESP loadshedding app to get live updates on your phone.
- Expect slightly slower service at restaurants, bars, and small shops due to power disruptions. (Fortunately, customer service in South Africa is usually fantastic).
- Boost Internet (Wi-Fi) capability internet might be slower than normal during loadshedding boosting your internet capacity will help mitigate the possible connectivity issues.
- Ask your venue for daily tips and updates. They’ll be watching the news and Twitter much more closely than you.
- Ask your event organizer what precautions they have in place and what steps the venue has taken to ensure loadshedding doesn’t cause any disruptions.
- Take extra precautions if you’re planning a cocktail or dinner reception in the evening. South Africans are very concerned about the well-being and safety of visitors to the country, so follow any warnings your event organizer gives.
- Be patient. Remember that loadshedding is out of businesses’ and events’ control. And people in South Africa have been living with the impact for years now.
- Don’t stress! Seriously, we can’t repeat enough how well South African hotels, event venues, businesses and people have adapted to loadshedding, and how little disruption it will cause your event.
If you’re planning a large event or conference in South Africa – get in touch! We have teams on the ground across the country who can provide the most up-to-date advice on navigating the crisis.
If you’re planning an event or conference in South Africa and you’re worried about loadshedding – don’t be!
That’s it. That’s the final word.
Just kidding. The country’s energy crisis will impact how you plan your event or conference, sightseeing, and social events. But only slightly. And much less than you think. Bookmark this page and use it as your guide to navigating loadshedding with the least possible disruption.
And then focus on the most important stuff: enjoying South Africa’s spectacular beauty, friendly hosts, vibrant cultures, and incredible capacity to host events and conferences of all sizes.
Still got some questions or concerns? Get in touch and we’ll provide you with the most up-to-date, honest, hysteria-free advice on loadshedding in South Africa.