Loadshedding life-threatening to people with disabilitiesSubmitted by Mariska Morris
In June, Willie Muntingh’s ventilator reportedly went off when loadshedding took place in his area. While his family tried to put him on oxygen, he went into a coma. He was declared brain dead shortly after. QASA is devasted by his passing. We extend our condolences to his friends and family. What truly makes this heart breaking is that it should have been avoided.
Willie’s passing highlights the burden loadshedding places on people with disabilities, their families and caregivers. It is at the point where their freedom, mobility and even lives are at risk.
Electricity is needed for a range of assistive devices that are essential to people with disabilities from charging a power wheelchair to running a pressure-care mattress or ventilator. All of these require reliable and sustained access to electricity. Without it, people with disabilities remain stranded in their homes or beds and even battle for their lives, like Willie.
This not only takes away their independence, but compromises their health, both physical and mental. They might be unable to collect medication, see their doctor or visit their occupational or physical therapist. Not to mention their inability to go to work or socialise with friends and family, which could lead to feeling isolated.
The lack of mobility inadvertently puts additional strain on caregivers or family who then need to run errands on the person with a disability’s behalf. There might even be a need to fulfil additional roles for which they are not trained like assisting with exercise or movement to prevent pressure sores, for example.
Aside from the physical challenges, loadshedding puts additional strain on a community that has little to no employment and income opportunities. They are required to take additional precautions to accommodate loadshedding. Willie’s family, for example, needed to have oxygen tanks on hand. But what happens when you can’t afford these additional precautions?
The situation is further aggravated by the unpredictable nature of loadshedding. The schedule is changed multiple times a day, which could easily catch someone off guard, but also results in some having access to electricity for only a couple of hours a night. This might not be enough time to charge the various assistive devices needed on a daily basis.
To make matters worse, the substations take additional strain during loadshedding. They could trip or blow a fuse, which often extends the power outage for a couple of hours or even days.
While the Constitution doesn’t make explicit mention of the right to electricity, it does mention that we have the right to human dignity, freedom of movement and access to adequate housing. Loadshedding is infringing on all of those rights, especially for those people with disabilities whose independence, quality of life and sustaining of life relies on the access of electricity – something for which the government has taken responsibility.
QASA urges the South African government, president Cyril Ramaphosa and Eskom to rethink its approach to loadshedding. Ideally, there would be no more burden placed on South Africans for a problem caused by the government’s lack of planning and poor management. In the meantime, we call on predictable, reasonable loadshedding. No more last minute schedule or stage changes. No more stacked loadshedding that gives some resident access to power for only a couple of hours at a time.
It is no longer only our economy that suffers, but our people. We have been patient and accommodating, but now our people are dying because Eskom can’t keep the lights on.
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The QuadPara Association of South Africa is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of quadriplegics and paraplegics in South Africa by providing services and advocating for their rights. We assist with securing assistive devices, driving licences, employment, accommodation and more. We also provide skills training opportunities and build a community for wheelchair users.
Our head offices are based in Durban, but we have regional associations across South Africa to provide assistance to every South African quadriplegic and paraplegics.