The electricity crisis in South Africa is a matter of great concern as it has implications that extend beyond the mere extension of power outages on a daily basis. It has had a significant impact on the economy and exacerbates existing socioeconomic problems and divisions.

By Mbali Mthembu

The phenomenon of load shedding is causing significant harm to both business and the broader community. The current energy crisis is anticipated to result in a surge of protests, escalated civil unrest, and heightened political tensions throughout the nation. This viewpoint is widely shared among professionals, researchers, and commentators.

There has been a growing concern regarding the effects of sporadic energy supply on the accessibility and affordability of food. The food manufacturing sector and farmers have expressed concern regarding the disturbance in production resulting from load-shedding, which has led to a significant surge in food price inflation, reaching 14,0% in March, the highest level observed since the 14,7% rise in March 2009.

During an interview with, Christo Van der Rheede, the CEO of Agri SA, expressed concern regarding the potential consequences of government inaction. He warned that the country may face crop failure, elevated food prices, and shortages of specific food items in the near future.

“Unless measures are implemented, a catastrophe looms for the country. Farming operations will be disrupted as the equipment is damaged due to power failures; the cost of food production will increase as farmers are forced to irrigate at peak prices; and labour costs will soar due to irregular work hours based on load-shedding schedules.

“At the same time, meat producers will be unable to pump water for their cattle or to slaughter and process their livestock and poultry. Agro-processing and retail will also suffer as packing and cooling operations fail. The result of all this for food affordability and availability will be devastating,” he said.

In April, the Centre For Risk Analysis cautioned that South Africa could experience social turmoil during the winter months because of prolonged power outages that are hindering economic progress and employment opportunities. This is happening at a time when living expenses are rising and political tensions are escalating in anticipation of next year’s elections.

Head of Policy Analysis at the Centre for Risk Analysis, Chris Hattingh told “A fundamental weakness in the economy – unreliable electricity supply – could likely push prices and inflation higher throughout the year. This will result in more pressure on consumers and businesses and add to the potential for civil unrest.”

Is there an increased risk looming?

Dr Johan Burger, an independent expert on crime and policing who previously worked as a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, issued a more alarming cautionary statement. He informed that indications of possible social unrest caused by the increasing cost of living and disappointment were evident throughout the nation.

“Those of us with a relatively stable income are already finding it increasingly difficult and have to think twice before we buy something, so one can only imagine the pressure people in lower income groups must be feeling.

“For many, this has been the situation for many years, and it has become worse. Unemployment is at 32,9 per cent, and the unofficial unemployment rate is even higher. High levels of unemployment lead to high levels of poverty, creating all sorts of social problems,” he told

According to Burger, all the indicators of unrest comparable to July 2021 are readily apparent.

“The potential for large-scale disruptions and looting and for large groups of people to come together and engage in popular uprisings could happen. When large groups of people are exposed to extreme levels of property over a long period of time, they build resentment and feel neglected by the state. They feel their needs are not acknowledged, and with this resentment comes a disregard for the state, its laws, and the police, and they feel they have the right to rise up and take what they need,” Burger said.

“And if they rise up in large enough numbers, it will be very difficult for the state to suppress this kind of uprising. The potential for this to happen is very real – it’s almost visible; it’s just beneath the surface,” he said.

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