South Africans may stop watching the ANC if there is load shedding

In Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2023, following prolonged power outages, people hold banners in a protest agains...

Winter has arrived in South Africa, where the country's worsening power outages are fueling calls for political change in the continent's most developed economy.

When Wiseman Bambatha gave his company the name Goodhope upholstery, he was engaging in wishful thinking.

In a cramped, one-room workshop located in the vast Khayelitsha township on the outskirts of Cape Town, Mr. Bambatha refurbishes couches and chairs.

But his broken electric sewing machine sits idle for hours on end. In Khayelitsha, the electricity is out for eight to ten hours nearly every day. It is referred to as load-shedding in South Africa.

Customers are irate because orders are not being filled.

Wiseman Bambatha in Khayelitsha, South Africa
Wiseman Bambatha is hoping that the ANC will keep its word.

Mr. Bambatha grimaces and acknowledges that his company is barely hanging on. This narrative is being told repeatedly across the nation.

Load-shedding kills jobs in a struggling economy where half of all young adults are unemployed.

In response to his potholed street and the view of corrugated shacks beyond, Mr. Bambatha says, "The government has been promising us a better life for years.". Tell me where it is, please.

There are more than a million people living in Khayelitsha. When darkness falls and the power goes out, it is engulfed in a eerie darkness that is broken up by street braziers.

Load-shedding and a lack of street lighting have increased the threat in Cape Town, which already had the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of Africa.

I first run into Mr. Bambatha's wife, Ruby, after sundown. She and her two young daughters are all lit up by a flickering candle and are huddled together on a sofa.

Ruby Bambatha pictured with her child by candlelight in Khayelitsha, South Africa
Ruby Bambatha does not venture outside with her kids after dark.

Only then do she says, "I always try to get home before dark, get the kids inside, and lock the door.

The power crisis is also robbing South Africans of their dignity in death.

A few miles from Khayelitsha, a man who owns a funeral home keeps the deceased in a cold room behind his office.

We have a big problem when the power is out for four hours, he claims. "Imagine the smell as the corpses begin to decompose. Families who are grieving cannot accept this. ".

The funeral director then calls his contacts in the industry. He ferries his bodies to anyone who still has power and room in their cold store when he finds them.

Every day in Cape Town, bodies are juggled in search of dependable power.

Load-shedding seems to be the instance of subpar service delivery that could cause the African National Congress (ANC) to lose its hold on power.

Numerous factors, including outdated coal-fired power plants, inept management at the state-owned energy company Eskom, and widespread corruption, are to blame for the rolling blackouts.

But in the end, there is one stark political fact: this crisis is owned by the Nelson Mandela party, which has held sway for 29 years since apartheid's end.

Five minutes after the lights and power are restored, I meet ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula at Luthuli House, the party's headquarters in Johannesburg.

He once took great pleasure in the moniker "Mr Fixit.". Now, he doesn't seem to get that name.

He admits, with startling candor, "Load-shedding could be our Achilles heel.". We might lose our majority as a result. ".

Next year, South Africans will vote. The ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa have been losing ground in polls for several months.

If voters have a respectable alternative, the party is more vulnerable than ever.

John Steenhuisen is the head of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition group in South Africa.

His office in Cape Town provides hints about the scope of his ambition. John F. Kennedy, a former US president, is featured in numerous images.

Mr. Steenhuisen promises me he will put together a "moonshot coalition" of twelve opposition parties to topple the ANC in yet another tribute to his political hero.

However, Mr. Steenhuisen is white in a nation where white people make up only 7% of the population. His party has a white membership of two thirds. Seventy percent of the faces in South Africa's boardrooms are also similar.

The trauma and structural inequality of apartheid are still present in South Africa, despite all the DA talk about competence and meritocracy.

Simon's Town at night with lights on (L) and during a blackout (R)
Images of Simon's Town, close to Cape Town, taken at night show the city with lights on (on the left) and without (on the right).

Therefore, Julius Malema may be the most influential political force in the nation right now.

He was expelled from the ANC more than ten years ago; after numerous allegations of inciting racial hatred and violence, party leaders advised him to enroll in anger-management classes.

He established the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a political organization dedicated to nationalizing the land, banks, and mines, or more generally, the main sources of remaining white economic dominance.

As the energy crisis worsens this winter, Mr. Malema sees a chance.

He tells me to "let the grid collapse.". "There will be a revolution, I'm telling you. I'm not hoping for it, but it will happen, and when it does, people will rise. ".

For the past 29 years, South Africa has been mismanaged by the ANC.

There will soon be a painful day of reckoning, and it is quickly approaching.

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