It’s four and a half hours since I awoke to a silent house, no hum of fridges, or water pumps, or daylight switches humming their warning that they are about to go off.
I don’t mind too much. I’m broke so every minute that my meter is blank, I think of all the units I am saving and smile. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but I have a gas ring so I can have a cup of tea, even make a meal. I have candles and rechargeable lights, all the mod cons needed to deal with outages such as these over the years. Others have generators for emergencies.
I remember driving home from work one Sunday afternoon many years ago in the foulest of weather: wind, driving rain, trees bending and breaking – scary. It was the onset of Cyclone Domoina, or ‘Zamcolo’ as it is known here. In front of me was a truck easily identified as belonging to the Swaziland Electricity Board as it was known then. As fast as poles crashed down, they were putting them up, an amazing effort in the face of huge adversity, and well worthy of great reward.
Before Christmas, with scant warning, we were told the staff of SEC were going to begin a sit-in, or go-slow or some such action because they had not received their annual bonuses. That doesn’t worry me too much either. Power outages in my area are endemic, sometimes as many as seven times in a day the power goes off. At times it comes straight back, or we can wait an hour or longer. We seldom have twenty four consecutive hours of uninterrupted power. All of which contribute to a gradual degradation of motors, and we then have the expense of replacing fridges, modems, water pumps, irrigation systems, the list is endless.
A number of times we have been out for ten or more hours at a stretch. We are told the technicians have gone home, or they are waiting for the storm to pass, or we don’t get any explanation at all. That is always assuming we can actually get someone to answer at the call centre. I doggedly left the phone ringing for forty minutes once. Twice I have received follow up calls after reporting the lack of power, once three days later, the other time a day later. I mean, please, why waste money on the phone call?
Today we were told that the technicians now only start work at 8am, which happened to be some three hours after our power failed. It is heading for 10 am, so over five hours I’ve saved a goodly number of units, far less than SEC has lost! All of which must be translated into revenue, or loss of earnings for the Company.
So who is really the loser in a situation like this? As I see it, the degenerating service offered by the Swaziland Electricity Company is causing more people to look to alternative forms of power. Solar is no longer as expensive as it was, companies like Guba show how waste can be converted to gas, wind is another option. I have friends who have converted almost completely to solar, and take very little from SEC. Another has made numerous alterations to their home and will soon not only be off the grid, but in a position to sell power back to SEC.
I certainly, if I am ever in the happy place of owning my own house, will look at alternate energy sources. I love the idea of self-sufficiency, not being dependant on someone unwilling to get out of bed to go to work on a rainy morning. But as more people look at these options, the workers of SEC may find that not only do they not receive any bonuses, but they may not have jobs to go to either.