WATCH | The awful toll of load-shedding on ordinary people trying to earn a living

18 March 2019 - 15:05
By Iavan Pijoos and Nonkululeko Njilo

There’s no excuse for a bad hair day - at least according to a veteran hair stylist, who is refusing to let load-shedding ruin his business.

Manfred Weber, who qualified as a hairdresser in the late 1950s, sat in a white barber chair at his salon in Linden, Johannesburg, on Monday as the country braced itself for yet another day of rolling blackouts.

"I started when I was 13 and I am 77 now. I always wanted to become a hairdresser," said Weber.  

Even though he still uses an old rotary-dial telephone and an even older cash register, there is no escaping reality when Eskom decides to hit the switch. 

"It is a very negative aspect of business and it affects everyone," said Weber of load-shedding.

Manfred Weber cuts a client's hair at his salon in Linden, Johannesburg.
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo Manfred Weber cuts a client's hair at his salon in Linden, Johannesburg.

On Saturday, load-shedding struck his business from 8am to 1pm. The power came back on for just ten minutes before going off again for the rest of the afternoon.

"People want to look nice on weekends, but they can't because there is no electricity," he said, adding that most of his clients were "trained" to check the load-shedding schedules before heading to his salon.

"The funny thing is, they are very understanding - because they are in the same situation. They come to hope that you have power!" 

Weber has resorted to using old-fashioned  "solar power" to cope with the blackouts. When the weather is good but the power is out, he encourages his clients to sit in the sun to dry their hair.

"We still do some of the old hairstyles, so we will put the rollers in and then the ladies will sit outside in the sun for their hair to dry. There is so much sun in this country - I mean, it's more reliable than Eskom!"

Numerous other people working in the area shared similar stories of struggling to keep their businesses afloat during load-shedding.

Noemei Irrime, a cashier at a dry-cleaning facility in the suburb, said business had been hit "hard" by load-shedding. “It's affecting us. On Saturday the whole day there was no electricity, so there is nothing we can do. It's better where there is no water. We sit down until it returns,” she said.

Surrounded by women ironing clothes on wooden ironing boards, Irrime said load-shedding was putting the squeeze on their business. "I don’t know how much we lost business-wise. We lose because we pay people while no work is being done. 

"I wish everything could go back to normal - even if the electricity could go on for at least two hours, so we could work - because, you see, waking up and taking a taxi to go to work and sitting the entire day is painful," she said.

Local street vendor Mduduzi Tshabangu sells beads, art and toy cars made out of wood and tin cans to provide for his wife and two children. He relies on customers from shops in the area to buy his goods. 

"Sometimes the customers want to buy something and then they can't withdraw the money because the ATMs are not working," he said. "There is less money coming in because I have a lot of things to pay for and then I struggle. The children expect something nice when you return from work."

Elizabeth van der Westhuizen, who works in a nearby accessory shop, said her son's bakery had also been heavily affected by load-shedding.

"He can't bake because he is halfway through the baking and then the electricity goes off. He loses all that money and ingredients. He is also suffering at the moment," she said.