As government entities scramble to find solutions to the crisis at Eskom, the country has been plunged into “rotational” darkness. Frequent load shedding has not only impacted everyday life but also small businesses that are thriving in an already ailing economy.
The chairperson of the Athlone Business partnership Ronald Camphor explained that the impact on smaller businesses, in particular, is very vast.
“The difference between big and small businesses is that the big (ones) can acquire expensive equipment, but smaller business cannot afford that. The huge capital expenditure is too much when they are already struggling,” said Camphor.
The lack of electricity impacts businesses of all kinds including those that require equipment such as doctors.
“A lot of these businesses have telephone systems which now don’t work. The sick who rely on respiratory systems, the restaurants, the coffee shops, are all affected. Even things like meetings have to be cancelled because the projector doesn’t work.”
Camphor highlighted that workers still come to work and need to be paid, even if the lack of electricity hampers them from being productive.
“Small businesses have to plan their day, they have workers that come in every day to manufacture goods. If the electricity is off, they obviously cannot perform those functions. Although no manufacturing is being done, employers still have to pay workers for being there.”
A local entrepreneur in Bonteheuwel Faldela Abrahams explained that she has needed to reduce pay in order to keep her business afloat. She explained that according to her calculations, if load shedding continues at the current rate, 12-15 hours of work is lost and smaller business cannot afford that.
“Given the social challenges within our community, there’s a lot that they have to deal with besides coming to work every day. I can’t bear to send these people home with half the pay they used to get. Where must they get the money to fill in all the gaps? We home industries don’t get an overhead profit, we must fight for that.”
Camphor explained that even the most basic services such as recycling takes a knock.
“The reality is stark, and the impact is terrible. Even vagrants who collect recycling to survive can’t sell their collected stuff because it’s weighed on an electronic scale.”
He explained that because the government has allowed the power utility to have such frequent cuts, it has depleted confidence in the system.
“We don’t blame the municipalities for this because they are not responsible for this, Eskom is. But if they cannot provide the level of electricity, they’re supposed to then they’re in breach. The problem is not even that we practically don’t have electricity, the bigger problem is that the business community has a lack of confidence in the government to manage the resources the way they ought to.”
Owner of Baked Sugar Tasnim Ceres said her baking business has also felt the pinch, with products going off in the fridge or ingredients being wasted when the electricity cuts off during baking. She also said she has opted to drop off products because she cannot wait for customers to pick them up, which has been costing more money. Despite her challenges, she urges all small businesses to remain driven.
“Know the schedule and work around that. If you have deadlines, work around it. Because everyone is experiencing it in Cape Town, hopefully, people will be understanding. It is tricky but we are all doing this for a reason. We need the business so we need to make a plan and hope for the best.”
Camphor also advised that entrepreneurs should be investing in a generator or applying for a tax release.
“Invest in the quietest generators or converters. Maybe even try gas. If they (businesses) can submit proposals for tax release because of the negative impact on the business.”