The demonstrators gathered in the center of the financial capital of Africa’s most industrialized nation to march to the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) side.
Most were dressed in blue, the color of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which organized the rally.
Some held signs reading “enough is enough,” “power to the people,” and “load-shedding is killing jobs.”
Scheduled blackouts, known as load-shedding, have plagued South Africa for years, with state-owned energy company Eskom failing to keep up with demand and maintaining its aging coal-fired power station infrastructure.
But power outages have reached new extremes over the past 12 months, with lights going out several times a day, sometimes for nearly 12 hours in total.
There was a heavy police presence and authorities said they expected about 5,000 people to march in Johannesburg, which has a population of about 5.5 million.
Several hundred ANC supporters also gathered at party headquarters for a counter-demonstration.
Protests were also planned in other locations around the country, including Cape Town.
“We have to charge our phones at certain times. We have to cook at certain times. We shouldn’t be living like this in South Africa.” Marina Hughesa 22-year-old student told AFP.
The blackouts cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production, disrupting trade and industry.
“I had to close four stores and 20 people lost their jobs, all because I can’t run my business because of being overworked,” says Lloyd Peltier, 40, a poultry entrepreneur.
An agricultural industry agency said this week that dairy farms were unable to keep their milk refrigerated due to the power outage.
“The food is spoiled in our fridges… What is the ANC doing?” early Mpana Hlasa35, who works at a school.
Many were angered by the recent approval of a hefty energy tariff increase that would help the debt-ridden Eskom, which generates more than 90 percent of South Africa’s energy, its finances.
“I already pay over a thousand rand for electricity every month and I don’t have any,” says Betty Lekgadimane, 44, who is unemployed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said this week it was “understandable” that people were “fed up” with the crisis, which was wreaking havoc in the country, but warned it could not be resolved “overnight”.
Speaking at an ANC meeting earlier this week, the president said the government is considering importing electricity from abroad and adding production from renewable energy sources.