State-owned energy firm Eskom has failed to keep pace with demand in recent decades, leading to outages.
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Johannesburg to protest a prolonged energy crisis that has caused record power cuts in South Africa.
The demonstrators gathered on Wednesday in the centre of the financial capital of Africa’s most industrialised nation to march on the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
Most were dressed in blue, the colour of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which organised the rally.
Some held signs reading, “Enough is enough,” “Power to the people” and “Load shedding is killing jobs.”
Scheduled blackouts, known as load shedding, have burdened South Africa for years as the state-owned energy firm Eskom has failed to keep pace with demand and maintain its ageing coal power infrastructure.
But the outages have reached new extremes over the past 12 months. Lights go off several times a day, sometimes for almost 12 hours in total.
There was a strong police presence at the protest with authorities saying they expected about 5,000 people to march in Johannesburg, which has a population of about 5.5 million.
A few hundred ANC supporters also gathered at the party’s headquarters for a counterdemonstration.
Protests were planned at other locations nationwide, including in Cape Town.
“We have to charge our phones at certain times. We have to cook at certain times,” Marino Hughes, a 22-year-old student, told the Agence France-Presse news agency. “We shouldn’t have to live this way in South Africa.”
The outages have disrupted commerce and industry and cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost output.
“I had to close four shops and 20 people lost their jobs, all this because I can’t run my business because of load shedding,” said Lloyd Peltier, 40, a poultry entrepreneur.
An agricultural industry body said this week that dairy farms have been unable to keep milk refrigerated because of the blackouts.
“Food is rotten in our fridges. … What is the ANC doing?” asked Mpana Hlasa, 35, who works at a school.
Many were angry at the recent approval of a steep energy tariff increase that debt-laden Eskom, which generates more than 90 percent of South Africa’s energy, said would help its finances.
“I already pay over 1,000 rand [$58] for electricity each month and I don’t have any,” said Betty Lekgadimane, 44, who is unemployed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week that it was “understandable” that people were “fed up” with a crisis wreaking “havoc” on the country but warned it could not be fixed overnight.
At an ANC meeting this week, the president said the government was looking to import electricity from abroad and add production from renewable energy sources.