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South Africa's small firms take strain during severe power cuts

South Africa's small businesses, still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and squeezed by inflation at a five-year peak, are now under further strain during the worst power cuts in over two years.

Struggling state electricity company Eskom implemented so-called "Stage 6" outages, meaning at least six hours of power cuts a day for most South Africans, for the first time since December 2019 on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.

Business owners in Johannesburg's sprawling Soweto township said they were feeling an immediate impact as the power cuts were eating into their daily sales.

"If we (normally) sell 6,000 rand ($372.45), now we get 2,000 rand," said Mathozi Matomela, 37, the co-owner of a fast food restaurant in Soweto.

He said he was considering laying off staff if the power cuts continued.

Sonia Jomal, a 32-year-old hair salon owner, said she had to reduce her business hours as she cannot provide basic services like a hair dryer or hot water when the power goes off.

"I have to lay off one person ... I can no longer afford her due to the less money coming in," she told Reuters on Wednesday.

Eskom, which has implemented intermittent power cuts for more than a decade, is one of the major obstacles to economic growth in Africa's most industrialised nation.

It has blamed the latest outages on an unlawful strike linked to a wage dispute with trade unions that began last week.

On Wednesday it said the maintenance backlog could take weeks to clear, warning the power system was likely to remain constrained for some time.

Eskom said it still faced a high level of absenteeism on Wednesday although more workers had reported for work than on Tuesday. Eskom and unions are due to discuss a new salary offer on Friday.

($1 = 16.1095 rand)

By Nqobile Dludla

and Anait Miridzhanian

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