Thursday, February 23, 2006

Turn out the light, bolt the door 

Cape Town is dark. Well part of the time anyway. Thanks to someone leaving a bolt in the reactor (or something very similar) when they repaired it, one of the nuclear reactors is down. The other reactor can't cope. The western cape's power comes from a nuclear power station just north of the city. One of the many angry letters to the local paper claimed that it is built to the same design as Chernobyl, which is a bit worrying, given the standard of maintenance they seem to apply.

Anyway, the net result is that we now have rolling blackouts, or "load shedding" as Eskom calls it. For 2 to 5 hours at a time, every day, often twice a day. One can imagine the consequences. For a start, the cellphone companies will see a spike in calls and revenue as office switchboards shut down during business hours. The hospitals will see an increase in food poisoning from defrosted food and victims of car crashes caused by traffic light failures. Business will lose a fortune as people sit around in the dark, or don't show up. Fire stations will see increased business thanks to blazes from candles and gas cooking. There will be a mini crime wave as alarms and electric fences shut down. And bloggers will find that their network connection dies in the middle of typing a post.

Imagine you were thinking of investing in South Africa, or were here on holiday, and discover that the power company cannot predict or cope with demand. We wonder why foreign investment is low, but we can't keep the lights on. My bet: the directors of Eskom will receive huge Christmas bonuses for the great job they did managing the crisis. A crisis of their making. Anyone know where I can buy a generator? Or some candles?

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