Nelson Mandela Foundation

As South Africans, we have all felt the disruption of loadshedding, but for small business owners its impact goes beyond inconvenience – in some cases, it threatens their livelihoods. I spoke to two entrepreneurs who are relatives of mine to understand how loadshedding affects their operations.

Neo Molefe, Director of Tri-Art Studio (Dainfern), explained how outages disrupt the crucial computer-aided design (CAD) software, and 3D modelling programs vital to his architectural work. Complex building designs and plans often take hours of uninterrupted work on these specialised programs. When loadshedding occurs, Neo sometimes loses an entire day, or even days of progress on projects. Clients understandably become frustrated with delays, and he risks losing work to larger firms better equipped with generators or backup power solutions. The unpredictable nature of loadshedding also makes it difficult for Neo to take on larger commercial projects that require meticulous planning and constant revisions over extended timelines. Unless a solution can be found, he worries loadshedding may eventually force him to close his small business despite years of hard work and experience in the field.

Lesego Mekwa, who runs the Lesego Creations bakery (Soweto), explained how loadshedding frequently causes him to lose entire cake batches when the power goes out. Without consistent electricity, he struggles to plan orders and meet customer demand. Both Lesego and Neo noted that recovering financially from income losses during each power cut is a challenge.

These cases highlight the urgent need for sustainable energy solutions and a just transition to renewable sources. Small businesses are pillars of their communities but cannot survive without reliable power. Investing in solar systems, battery storage, and energy efficiency upgrades would help mitigate the damages of loadshedding for entrepreneurs.

Government initiatives like the South African Energy Transition Framework (JET-IP) acknowledge this need but implementation remains slow. Accelerating access to financing mechanisms and skills training programs could support more small businesses in taking ownership of their energy needs. This is a crucial part of building an inclusive green economy with opportunities for all.

As we reflect on Nelson Mandela's vision of a democratic, non-racial, and economically emancipated society, and we mark 30 years of our democracy, the impacts of loadshedding remind us how far we still have to go. Supporting small businesses through this difficult time, with sustainable solutions would honour Madiba's legacy and build a stronger future for communities.