When the Lights Go Out

Load shedding – like boerewors on the braai – is fast becoming a typically South African experience. We help you stay safe when the power fails.

Crime can happen at any time but ‘when the lights go out your safety risk increases by 100%,’ says COSMO self-defence expert Sanette Smit. ‘Triple your sixth sense (your intuition), and prioritise your safety.’ That means putting your cellphone down and pricking your ears up.


If you find yourself out in public when the lights go out, keep your personal belongings close to you. ‘There is an increased chance of being attacked or having your possessions stolen from you in the dark’ says Smit. ‘It’s also advisable to carry a small torch in your handbag to get you to your car safely.’

Cars with central locking and remote access are the safer option for women, says Smit. ‘Fumbling with a set of keys to open your car wastes time and makes you more vulnerable to being assaulted. Move quickly to your car. Try and have someone walk with you, but if you’re on your own, move swiftly and look around you at all times. When you’re on the road, treat traffic lights like four-way stops, says Smit. ‘Keep your car in constant motion – a stationary vehicle becomes an easy target for offenders.’


‘Always be on the lookout for any suspicious vehicles that may be following you, or any unknown vehicles parked outside your house,’ says Roy Rawlins, MD of security company ADT. If you do notice anything out of the ordinary, drive to a ‘safe area’ – a police station for example and ask for assistance.

Try to get a battery-operated electric fencing system and alarm fitted, so that when the electricity goes out, the battery kicks in. Upgrading to a battery-operated system costs about R2000 to R4500, says owner of Fort Security, Christopher Hutt. ‘Most systems are battery-operated – only the older ones operate solely on electricity. Find out from the company that installed your system which type you have.’

In the meantime, if you cannot afford to upgrade to a battery-operated system, make sure someone is waiting for you when you arrive home. If you live alone and are a member of a security company in the area, you can also arrange for them to meet you at home. ‘Part of ADT’s standard service offering is a set number of complementary meet ‘n greet services per month,’ says Rawlins. ‘However, if you are not a member of a security company, take extra precaution and if you park in your driveway, put your car into reverse,’ says Rawlins. ‘This allows you to drive over any potential hijacker.’ Never leave your engine running unattended, as someone could jump in and drive off – and remember to turn your brake lights on to illuminate the area behind you.


If you own dogs, keep them inside. ‘When your dogs are inside they have a smaller area to patrol and are more likely to hear anything out of the ordinary,’ says Smit. ‘Keep candles, a lighter and a torch nearby, in case the lights go out. You might also feel safer if you lock yourself in a room in your house and if you have a firearm, keep it with you for added protection.’


Community police and security companies provide added assistance during the power cuts, says Captain Percy Morokane of the SAPS. ‘We have more than enough resources to cope with the power outages and have strategies in place that apply to any circumstance, including electrical failures.’ Get the contact details of the community police representative in your area by contacting your nearest police station. The station commissioner will provide you with the details and advise you on which areas they patrol.

Increasing its presence in suburbs around South Africa, ADT Security has attempted to ascertain the scheduled times and areas for the power outages, says Rawlins. ‘We deploy additional patrols during the power-cuts to ensure that people feel safer seeing us in and around the specific areas, when the power is out.’ Help the police and the security company in your area by being alert and reporting any suspicious activity to them.


• Cut back tall bushes during the black outs. Vegetation provides the perfect hiding place for criminals.

• If you are attacked during a black-out, do anything you can to immobilise your assailant so that you can get away quickly. ‘Grab, hit or scratch the attacker on their sensitive body areas – and remember, your high-heel shoe can also be used as a weapon.’

• Vary the times of leaving and arriving home, as well as the routes you take to and from home and work.

• If you are approached by a stranger and don’t feel comfortable when in your car, lean on your horn and attract attention or drive away.

Author: Charlene Yared. Published in the August 2008 edition of Cosmopolitan, Cosmo Kicks Butt Self-Defence Handbook Supplement.