Concerns regarding a national power blackout – which can leave South Africans without power for 2 to 4 weeks – remains. Many companies and security firms are now preparing for such an event.
Eskom downplayed the likelihood of a total power blackout, explaining that its CEO Tshediso Matona’s warning of a total collapse of the power grid was “misinterpreted”.
However, Eskom sources told the media that a total power grid collapse was a “very significant possibility for the foreseeable future”.
Media reports also suggested that cabinet has been briefed by Eskom about the risk of a total blackout.
The City Press reported the US embassy in Pretoria “has drawn up an evacuation plan partly designed to get its staff out safely if the lights go off in South Africa once and for all”.
South Africa’s top leaders will also be moved to safety. Reuters reported that president Jacob Zuma and his cabinet would be taken to a secret location if a blackout occurred.
This raises the question as to what ordinary South Africans can expect in the event of a total power blackout.
Institute for Security Studies
Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said that one can expect chaos around the country in the event of a national blackout.
He said that criminals will take advantage of this chaos. “Career criminals and opportunistic criminals will see a blackout as an opportunity for crime, and will use it to their advantage,” said Burger.
The fact that private security relies heavily on electricity to contain crime means that a blackout will significantly weaken its efficacy.
Burger hopes that the government and private security companies are planning for the possibility of a total blackout.
He explained that the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster should have measures in place to avoid a disaster in the event of a blackout.
Burger likened the blackout threat to the 1999 Y2K concerns, where it was predicted that the Y2K bug could take down critical systems – including electricity.
At the time, Burger said the JCPS, through its operational structures, did extensive planning to avoid any disaster. This included visiting all major centres and ensuring they were prepared for the worst.
The threat of a national electricity blackout in South Africa should be treated in the same way, he said.
G4S security prepared
G4S South Africa spokesperson Yash Bridgmohan said that one of their major security concerns is a blackout.
“Like all South Africans, G4S is concerned about the potential blackouts,” said Bridgmohan.
She said that as part of G4S’s risk management process they have prepared as best they can for the worst possible outcome.
Bridgmohan said that while they are prepared, the nature of their industry means they cannot elaborate on their plans.
Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster
MyBroadband asked the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster – which should be prepared for such an event – for comment regarding this issue.
The JCPS promised a response, but it did not deliver on this promise by the time of publication.
The South African Police Service also did not respond to questions regarding its preparations for a total power blackout.