Eswatini’s winter power cuts to affect HE institutions

Higher education institutions and students in Eswatini are expected to feel the impact of a plan by the Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC) to implement winter load-shedding due to an inadequate power supply.

The EEC announced plans earlier in May for winter loadshedding. The planned move, however, is set to have consequences for the higher education sector, according to an economist quoted by the Times of Swaziland.

The paper quoted an economist in a 29 May news report titled, ‘Economist’s load-shedding fears on education, health’.

The unnamed source stated that, of those who are under threat “the most [affected] were students in tertiary institutions and also pupils engaging in practical subjects, such as food science”.

Speaking to University World News, the president of the Swaziland National Union of Students, Gabiey Ndukuya, said the planned loadshedding was going to “compromise the quality of education”.

“It is a must that students use computer laboratories. When there is loadshedding, it will be very difficult for students to do that,” she said.

The country’s 2010 ICT Masterplan “acknowledges the role of ICTs in facilitating the attainment of developmental goals in all sectors of the economy, with reference to e-education and the investment in the development of ICT human resources, including for education.”

However, the country’s use of ICT in education will most likely be impeded by looming load-shedding. Students in Eswatini’s universities will not be able to use computers during load-shedding.

Said Ndukuya: “Eswatini colleges are not in the habit of using generators, except in strategic university areas, and some just don’t have generators.”

Network problems and security

Load-shedding in Eswatini normally signals the beginning of network problems.

Many students worldwide now use cellphones and cellphone networks to access the internet and conduct school research. Without electricity, however, cellphone network coverage is not guaranteed.

One mobile service provider writes on its website: “When load-shedding occurs, a cellphone tower remains fully functional for as long as the batteries last or the back-up generator keeps running. Once power is fully depleted, the tower stops working entirely and, depending on the configuration of nearby towers, may cause a coverage area to blackout entirely or for customers to experience intermittent service.”

Ndukuya said past power cuts had affected security on campuses and some students had been robbed of their devices.

But losing property to theft is not the biggest risk students face, according to Ndukuya, who also noted instances in which sexual assaults had taken place in the past during power blackouts.

Eswatini is not the only country planning to effect winter load-shedding, a phenomenon caused by an inadequate supply of electricity during winter. South Africa, Eswatini’s neighbour and supplier of 53% of its electricity, has been experiencing extended periods of load-shedding, which means scheduled blackouts for up to eight hours or more in a 24-hour cycle.