Like most South Africans, students living off-campus are confronting a powerless existence for at least the next few months.

On Sunday, February 19, Eskom announced the indefinite implementation of Stage 6 loadshedding, the worst outage so far. Many students living at off-campus accommodations now face the bleak existence of up to 10 hours a day without electricity.

In a statement, the power utility blamed the move on breakdowns and coal shortages. This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent declaration of a national state of disaster on the energy crisis.  

Relying on natural light to get day-to-day tasks like washing the dishes is the new normal for students living in off-campus accommodations. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi.

During his state of the province address on Monday February 20, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi announced a R1.2 billion budget to end loadshedding.  From April 1, Gauteng plans to install roof-top solar panels in government buildings such as healthcare facilities, schools and libraries among other measures.  

But for now, students who live off-campus, in and around Johannesburg, must rely on candles and dim cellphone lights for as long as their batteries last, during long outages.  

Wallace Katiyo, the regional marketing coordinator at South Point told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We’ve replaced the emergency lighting in many of our buildings to accommodate the longer loadshedding schedules. Likewise, all fire alarm panels, access control and other equipment that have backup batteries are checked regularly and immediately replaced if ever found faulty”. 

“South Africa as a whole is affected by loadshedding on a daily basis with the business sector slowly adjusting to operating within the current “power crisis” landscape, this is no different to the student accommodation sector,” said Katiyo. 

Plans are afoot to upgrade South Point buildings with alternate power sources such as generators starting in June 2023. Meaning students living off campus have to get by in the dark for a few more months.  

“Minister Nzimande is concerned about the impact of load shedding on the Post School Education and Training (PSET) system, particularly on student’s studies and safety, particularly at night… and has called upon all institutions to ramp up on their security on campuses,” Ishmael Mnisi, a media liaison officer from the department of higher education and training, told Wits Vuvuzela

Alternatives like inverters are out of the question for many students, especially those who are funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and make do with a living allowance of R3 045. This may mean more hours spent on campus, as most buildings have uninterrupted back-up generation.  

Deena Naidoo, the deputy vice-chancellor of systems and operations at Wits, said while the university has deployed diesel backup power generators across all its campuses and residences to provide power during load shedding and mitigate the immediate power disruptions to the academic programme, these efforts come at an enormous cost in the form of consumables (diesel and gas), maintenance, repairs and support staff. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A long exposure photo of South Point’s 56 Jorissen street student accommodation in Braamfontein. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi