The only thing that should roll in rolling blackouts, are heads
This opinion piece by OUTA Legal Project Manager, Brendan Slade was first published in Netwerk 24
It is an understatement to say South Africans are fed up with loadshedding. We are sick and tired of being lied to, asked to conserve electricity while the national grid collapses, and to trust the so-called process. “My fellow South Africans” will probably all agree that we have had it with “family meetings”, weekly newsletters and press conferences where we are placated with nice words and a call for calm.
It’s also not as if electricity is the only issue, although it is huge. Inflation and repo rates are killing us, and the inflated petrol price ate into most households’ grocery money over the last few months. While MPs and top government officials earn anything from R1 million per year and upwards – not to mention the millions per year our ministers earn – us ordinary citizens can barely afford to go grocery shopping. To add insult to injury, it is the most basic foods that are getting more expensive every month – we won’t even mention the nice-to-have stuff. The majority of our country’s people are poor, and for most it’s a real struggle to survive.
Yet, we have no choice other than to push ahead and try to survive one more day, one more month.
To exacerbate this, Eskom has approached NERSA for a ridiculous tariff increase of 38% to top it all off. To put this into perspective, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was at 7,6% in August. The CPI for food has been climbing steadily, driven by increasing price for oils and fats and cereals, further proof that ordinary people are struggling to survive.
Add to this that South Africans taxes on a level comparable to the richest countries in the world while getting services that hardly compares with that of some of the poorest countries in the world, to paraphrase Business Maverick’s editor Tim Cohen. All of this while MPs, ministers and top government officials sit back and spin statements that everything is going according to plan (with Eskom and other ailing SOEs) and that we just need to be patient, as it will take time.
Unfortunately, time is not a commodity that our country has an abundance of. In fact, we don’t have much time left at all.
Last year, Vietnam managed to connect approximately 9.1GW worth of solar PV energy through a streamlined, all-hands-on-deck initiative. To put this in to perspective, South Africa has a total installed generation capacity of approximately 44GW. In essence, Vietnam was able to install almost a quarter of South Africa’s total generation capacity in one year, through renewable energy solutions. Vietnam is a third world country. What is keeping South Africa from doing the same?
It’s time for our leaders to understand that we are tired of hearing about plans, roadmaps, and turn-around strategies. We can see through all the jargon you use to calm the masses, and it means absolutely nothing to us anymore. It also hasn’t changed a thing. In fact, Government hasn’t changed a thing when it comes to the energy crisis. Aside from the announcement of measly IPP programmes, which should have been implemented years ago, no real action has come from government’s promises. Our coal fleets are becoming vintage quite literally, and spending money to upgrade them, while not making provision for additional generation capacity, is counterintuitive.
Our leaders should also realise that we see their factional wars and infighting. There is no more time for this, nor for socialist ideologies clinging on to state control of our only national energy utility. Whether we like it or not, government’s reluctance to streamline renewable energy programmes and allowing the private sector to generate electricity, is rooted in their fear of losing control. Empty promises of magical energy solutions – devoid of any real action - seem to be the carrot with which voters are enticed to keep politicians on the gravy train.
But what about the recent announcements of small IPP programmes, you may ask? While this is a long overdue concession from government that the private sector is much needed in this crisis, we should question the small amount to be generated by these IPP programmes, as well as their abysmal timing. It indicates that control of the gravy train is still our government’s main aim. If it wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t have minded passing the burden of power generation to a competent private sector.
It is also important for the public to know that our Cabinet has a constitutional duty to work together to solve problems such as the current energy crisis. Ministers and their respective departments should stop electioneering for moment and take collective responsibility for the massive problems we are facing.
Cooperation in public interest does not mean compromising exclusive functions. In essence, not working together – an obvious observation if one looks at the declining state of Eskom and energy, it is unconstitutional for the Department of Mineral Resources (DMRE), Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), Department of Trade and Industry (DTIC) and National Treasury not to work together in finding a solution to this mess. Thus far, we get different messages from different departments, some vague, some contradicting, but all of them meaningless when it comes to finding real and lasting solutions.
From where we are sitting (often literally in the dark) it is clear that changes are not only needed at Eskom (who clearly needs support to solve the skills crisis, alleged sabotage and financial problems due to past mismanagement, amongst others) but also at the level of all government department involved with policy decisions affecting Eskom operations.
The government – and yes, let’s be frank, the governing party – has failed the country and it will continue to do so. It’s a mistake to think that a self-serving political party currently destroying itself in a quest for power, will put a service as basic as electricity before its own political interests. The ruling party is rotten to the core and has been for a significant number of years – just look at the findings of the Zondo Report into state capture.
The rot will not magically evaporate after the 2024 national elections. But removing some of the primary rot by replacing out of touch government officials and ministers will certainly be a step in the direction of the often promised - yet still to be seen - New Dawn. Somebody like Gwede Mantashe should put the country’s critical energy needs before his obsessions with Turkish Karpowerships and Russian nuclear. As for Pravin Gordhan: why does Eskom, arguably the most critical state owned entity of all, not have a full board? How can an institution this important limp along with seven empty board seats, despite several requests from the board and Eskom executives to fill those seats?
If connected cadres on all levels of government – from cabinet to SOE boards – are replaced with skilled people willing to work together to find urgent solutions to keep the country’s lights on, we can start creating jobs again. Instead, we read with dismay that 120 000 jobs in the formal sector were lost in the second quarter of this year, according to Stats SA. More jobs means a broader tax base and economic growth.
If you are angry at our government, you have every right to be. We need leaders who will put the country – and not the party – first. It is time to liberate SA from empty ideologies, politics of the stomach and corrupt politicians, and that can only happen if we, the ordinary people of SA, unite and hold those elected leaders accountable. We have a duty to be active citizens, not passive onlookers. And if you don’t know where to start, start by supporting organisations who are ready to fight on your behalf.
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