For two years, *Thandekile Ngwenya, a candidate attorney, has driven the same route to her workplace, a law firm in Rosebank, without incident.
On 18 January, this changed. Due to load-shedding, the traffic lights were out, and Ngwenya felt herself getting anxious. “I always feel nervous driving during load-shedding because we have to rely on human behaviour, driving with the hope that someone will follow the rules of the road.”
On high alert, she drove towards an intersection where drivers have to follow the rules of a four-way stop when traffic lights are off. As she turned right, she noticed a stationery bus on the lane to her left, dropping off passengers.
“Three school children ran from the back of the bus towards my lane. I tried applying the brakes but it was too late, the car had already collided with one of the children.”
A young girl, aged twelve, had been hit, but wasn’t visibly injured.
Although she wasn’t at fault, Ngwenya froze in shock. “My hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe it.”
After contacting the young girl’s parents, Ngwenya accompanied the girl to the hospital and kept contact with the family until they confirmed her well-being.
Despite the good outcome, the accident left her traumatised. “I had issues falling asleep because the accident kept on replaying in my head. I kept on blaming myself and thinking that I should’ve taken a different route, checked the GPS for traffic or a clue for load-shedding, or delayed going to work by a couple of minutes.”
Two weeks later, her anxiety has not eased, and driving during power outages is a daily stress inducing experience.
It’s bad and seriously frightening 💔
Crimes committed during load shedding are growing in large numbers.
— 👸Olerato🦁 ™️ (@Olerato007) January 16, 2023
Increase in anxiety and stress caused by load-shedding
Ngwenya’s story is not unusual, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). They’re seeing a high volume of callers, needing to talk about how load-shedding is a contributing factor to their stress and anxiety.
In 2022, South Africa experienced a record 200 days of power cuts. With rolling blackouts every day since the new year started, hours without power is now the norm.
“Sudden extended rolling blackouts, massive increases in petrol prices and living costs, issues with water, and an increase in violence, have been observable causes of the increase in devastation and worry,” explains SADAG Operations Director, Casey Chambers.
My suicidal ideations and anxiety are way up, especially since I have been losing income due to loadshedding. I can't afford to live the way things are
— (R)evolver (@daemos1) January 17, 2023
Women and children on the receiving end of violence
Another organisation has also seen a rise in calls, this time related to gender based violence, and women seeking shelter. Balungile Mtaka is a co-ordinator for informal settlements in region F of Johannesburg, which forms part of the inner city. As a point of contact between the community and the local police station, she’s an eyewitness to the pain of the community.
“Men have lost their jobs and they are experiencing stress. They have started to abuse the women that they live with and are close to. It is difficult and a repetition of what happened during COVID-19 when women and children were outlets for the frustration that men experience”, says Mtaka.
“A lot of the small businesses and companies that hired general workers, handymen, and cashiers have told them that they are either forced to shut down or cut the number of staff due to the impact that load-shedding has on the business.”
The data from Stats SA’s last Quarterly Employment Survey showed that business services (-15 000) construction (-13 000) and manufacturing (-12,000) shed the most jobs.
The loss of income has fuelled violence and rage. According to Mtaka: “We started seeing this in January when the year began. Stage 6 of load-shedding gave firms up to two hours of electricity only. This meant that they were losing on production and couldn’t keep people.”
In informal settlements, Mtaka says that load-shedding is making women feel even more unsafe to walk around at night, unable to access water from the communal tap, or use communal ablution facilities because of the risk of violence and harm.
“You’ll surely get harassed and most likely get robbed, stabbed, or raped if you go to the toilets on your own when it’s dark. We urinate in buckets or hold it until the morning, because that really might save your life.”
Police: no rise in crime due to load-shedding
Brigadier Athlenda Mathe from the National Office of the South African Police Service (SAPS) told Health-e News they have not observed an increase in distress calls, complaints, or reports of crime on a national scale amid the unpredicted and consistent load-shedding periods.
Mathe said that the police response is always increasing to address emerging patterns of crime. While refusing to answer direct questions referring to the volume of reports of crime all over the country and the kind of crime that is reported, Mathe said that there has been no additions or changes made to deal with possible incidences of high crime rates that are specifically exacerbated by load-shedding.
In December 2022, Police Minister Bheki Cele welcomed 10 000 new members to the police service. Mathe shared her confidence in the growing number of employees, marking their introduction as a strategy by police that maintains “strengthening police visibility, ensuring 24/7 daily operation of police vans, and enhancing the capacity of the police,” she said.
“We are doubling our efforts and it’s not because of load-shedding but because we strive to make sure that all people living in the country are safe.”
Long periods of experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety can trigger depression, warns Chambers. Her advice is to pay attention to any heightened levels of stress and frustration during this time.
To remain calm, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and clear your mind. Breathing is known to have a positive impact on mental health. Sending oxygen to areas in the body that suffocate when we are feeling overwhelmed and panicked.
Taking as little as 10 minutes for stretches behind your desk, a short walk, or a dance, to make sure that you’re taking up some kind of physical activity on a daily basis. Movement is also known to be a remedy for the mind, which can help release stored stress and tension.
Have a plan in place to keep you busy or distracted during load-shedding.
Talk about it
Talking is key. You will find that many other people around you, at work, or in your community, feel just as frustrated as you do.
For counseling services and mental health support, SADAG is available for 24 hours a day and during load-shedding via all their channels.-Health-e News