South African residents woke up to sub-zero temperatures and patches of snow on Tuesday as a freezing front moved over large parts of the country. Areas of Johannesburg were dressed in a white blanket of snow that fell intermittently throughout the day.
“Locals can expect the light snow to continue until Wednesday morning,” said South African Weather Service forecaster Jacqueline Riet.
The last time Johannesburg experienced a substantial snowfall was in June 2007. Before that, the city last saw a considerable amount of snow in 1981.
By Tuesday afternoon, the South African Weather Service said eight of the nine provinces - all but Limpopo - were experiencing snow.
Johannesburg recorded temperatures of just below two degrees Celsius. In the city centre, thin layers of snow were draped over sidewalks and cars.
A car guard outside the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court, who only gave his first name, said he had lived in the city for four years and had never seen snow there.
“I like it. I like it too much,” 25-year-old Steven said.
Another car guard, tightly wrapped up in a scarf and blanket, said he did not like the snow at all.
“It's bad. It's making it cold.”
He said this was the second time he had seen snow. He saw it once as a child.
A man taking pictures of snow-covered cars in the CBD streets said this was the first time he had seen snow in his life.
“It's my first time. It's beautiful. That's why we are so keen on taking pictures,” Elliot Mofokeng said.
In Commissioner Street, a group of smokers huddled outside an office building, cigarettes clutched between their fingers.
“It's nice. I hope it's just for today. I'm not able to smoke properly,” one said.
All of them had seen snow recently on a holiday to Lesotho, but said they had never seen snow in Johannesburg.
Earlier on Tuesday, Eskom warned that the capacity of the power system was expected to be “tight” on Tuesday evening, and consumers needed to lower their consumption.
Cold weather was expected to increase demand, particularly from 5pm to 7pm, the public utility said in a statement.
“The power system will be tight during the evening peak. We urge customers to switch off all non-essential appliances during this time.”
Snowfalls had affected some of Eskom's transmission infrastructure in areas of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Eskom has staff and vehicles on standby and has managed to prevent interruptions to power supply in most parts of the country.”
The public utility said it was working to restore service to areas that had lost power.
The N3 toll route between Tugela Plaza and Harrismith in KwaZulu-Natal remained closed, toll concession spokesperson Andy Visser said.
“It is likely to remain so well into the night, as snowfall is predicted until around midnight this evening.
“The best advice for motorists is to avoid travel until the weather conditions clear up.”
Earlier, other roads in the province were re-opened to traffic.
Roads affected included the N3 at Van Reenen's Pass, the N2 between Harding and Kokstad, the R617 between Swartberg and Underberg and the P609 near Matatiele.
The KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs department said it had placed its disaster management teams on standby.
“Emergency rescue and disaster personnel have been dispatched to various parts of the province, especially the interior, where heavy snow is currently falling and making the N3 impassable,” spokesperson Vernon Mchunu said.
Heavy snowfalls caused the closure of several border posts between South Africa and Lesotho, the National Border Operational Committee said on Tuesday.
These borders were in the Free State and the Eastern Cape, said spokesperson William Mpye.
“The Qacha's Nek and Caledonspoort border posts were closed. Both posts will remain closed until further notice,” he said.
The situation at the Monantsha Pass post was classified as dangerous and travellers were advised not to try to use the crossing.
Mpye said the Telle Bridge, Ongeluks Nek and Ramatsiliso posts remained open, but were inaccessible to heavy vehicles.
The Johannesburg weather was expected to be slightly warmer on Wednesday, but another cold front was expected to hit the country from the south-west on Friday. - Sapa