[OPINION] Load shedding 101 - a Zimbabwean's survival tips for SA

Has stage four load-shedding got you grimacing? Can you see nothing but a long string of unromantic candle-lit suppers stretching out in front of you for evermore?

Fear not. Zimbabweans have done the load-shedding thing for YEARS now. Here – in our columnist’s words – is How You Do It. Grit your teeth and read.

GET OFF THE GRID

This is a no-brainer. If you haven’t already done so, get an inverter. My first inverter was a gift from a safari guide friend. He first used that inverter on the car battery so his wife could blow dry her hair while out in the bush. But when load-shedding kicked in for good, he saw a wider use.

That inverter served me well during the worst of Zimbabwe’s load-shedding nightmare from 2007-2008 and beyond. It’s still going.

Admittedly, we have never used it to power the freezer (see below) or the TV. We’ve decided we can function on the barest essentials: enough juice for the laptop, the Wi-Fi router and a desk lamp. Investing in alternative power supplies doesn’t have to be hugely expensive. Decide what your priorities are.

DON’T KEEP YOUR FREEZER FULLY STOCKED (BUT DO STOCKPILE OLD NEWSPAPERS)

You may have to change your shopping habits. Learn to keep your perishable purchases to a minimum. If you’re a big meat fan, shop the student way: buy what you need for a day or two, instead of doing huge weekly shopping trips.

You’ll need those stockpiled newspapers to mop up the puddle of water that pools below the fridge as the ice inside it thaws. A huge consolation is knowing that your fridge isn’t stocked with expensive frozen food that’s likely to go off.

MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOUR

Q: “What does a Zimbabwean man need to do to really annoy his wife?”

A: “Take her out for a candlelit dinner.”

That was one of the jokes doing the rounds during Zimbabwe’s dark days. Jokes like it kept a smile on Zimbabweans’ faces even amid the gruelling regularity of eight or 12-hour long power outages.

Maintaining a grim sense of humour is what helped Zimbabweans in the dark Robert Mugabe years.

COUNT YOURSELF LUCKY

On social media, Zimbabweans have been bemused by the graded power cuts announced by Eskom (as in: “Eskom actually TELLS you when the power’s going to go off?”).

In Zimbabwe, load-shedding timetables were always more aspirational than practical. Power outages would frequently continue long beyond the stated times published in the paper, or they’d happen on days your suburb was supposed to have power.

As one Zimbabwean said on social media last week, Zimbabwe’s stages of load shedding would be one of two: eight hours or several days. And because Zimbabwe’s worst power cuts coincided with a fuel crisis, thieves would regularly break into substations and drain oil from electricity transformers. So, when the power came back on: Boom! The transformer blew. That way the power might stay off for days, or even weeks.

You have, dear South African neighbours, been warned.

Oliver Matthews is a freelance reporter based in Zimbabwe.