If you want to experience the unplugged version of South Africa, now is the time to come and visit.
We arrive in Springbok, the capital of Namaqualand, in the Northern Cape, in total darkness. Finding the sign leading to the hotel seems rather a joke. Itâ€™s too dark. There are few houses lit up, some with candles, others with paraffin lamps. Only the gas station has real lighting. I go ask the ladies sitting outside where the hotel is and can barely hear them. The generator is too loud. When we finally arrive in Okiep, itâ€™s even darker. Again only the pump station sheds a light in the blackness. â€śYou see the other light? Thatâ€™s the Okiep Country Hotel!â€ť says the guy at the gas station, screaming above the generator noise.
It seems in the Northern Cape you are lucky if you have a generator. We learn from Malcolm Mostert, the owner of the Okiep Country Hotel where we are bedding down for two nights.
We quickly learn more why Springbok and Okiep look like ghost towns. These power cuts in South Africa are a common and daily thing. They come and go, on the most weird hours and times of the day. Around six at night for example when moms have to feed their kids and when people come back from work. Most people do not have a generator like our hotel, so living in the darkness, getting your things done with candle lights, becomes part of life. Malcolm says they used to have only once a week a power cut in the evening and on that night he and his family always had braai with candle lights. At that point, it wasnâ€™t such a bad thing, even a good reason to have a more intimate time with his young family. But now the power cuts are daily, or even twice and becoming a big problem for people, businesses and the economy in South Africa.
The reason why they happen is because the state-run energy company Escom is in trouble en cannot meet electricity demands for the country. The government waited to long to invest in new power plants and an upgraded network. Escom should have long been denationalized so private companies could start selling energy to the grid.
Alas, the power cuts are another alarming sign to us of South Africa not really moving forward in the right direction and that something rather unpleasant is looming over this great country.
I wonâ€™t talk or write too much politics, thatâ€™s not my thing or speciality. But any sensitive traveller will notice that something is going on and itâ€™s not something to be chirpy about.
Luckily there are still young South Africans like Malcolm from the successful Okiep Country Hotel. Heâ€™s a real entrepreneur and still believes in his beloved country (despite he has already a plan B and C if something would go wrong). Over a cold beer and a plate of biltong, he tells us about his dreams to buy another hotel and start a group of country hotels. Most of the city hotels in smaller towns here in the Northern and Western Cape are not well managed, suffer from the competition of guest houses and B&Bs, and almost all need a serious upgrade.
So with total, pitch black darkness outside, itâ€™s good to hear South Africans still believe in a bright future for their country. If the current government has the same noble thoughts, is another question.
Not even total darkness can hide bad intentions.