”Written byLiam Girie
“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.” – Ursula Le Guin
When I was younger, I used to hate hearing adults talk about our country as if it were a sinking ship. I despised the fearful doomsday preppers and soon-to-be expats who, with great fervour, would prophesise the demise of the country I have proudly known and loved my whole life. But as I grew older and somewhat wiser, the sad truth of the situation reared its ugly head to meet my gaze. And like some Lovecraftian aberration, its sheer scope has driven me insane. This country has problems, serious systemic problems that our government is either too incompetent to effectively address or largely responsible for. Knowing all of this, it is hard for me to remain optimistic about the country’s trajectory and we tragically find ourselves in.
Day by day we are losing more and more faith in the future of this beautiful nation thanks in no small part to the ruling party and its mismanagement of the country whose people it is meant to serve. While I would like to disclaim that I do still love this country and believe in its potential, I am fast becoming another embittered denizen with a chip on their shoulder and a bone to pick with the government. So I’d like to start picking, beginning now with Eskom’s jaw-dropping fumbling of its role as South Africa’s primary power utility and our president’s questionable suggestions for solutions.
Eskom is the largest energy producer on the entire continent and South Africa’s biggest state-owned enterprise who, for the last 15 years, has subjected a developing nation to the frequent power blackouts we know as load shedding.
In order to remain operational amidst its failing infrastructure, its crippling debt, and the regular union strikes which occur on account of how willing the company is to underpay its workers, Eskom has determined that we the people should subsidise the costs of their shortcomings. Now, South Africans are forced to pay obscenely inflated prices to keep the lights on amidst the worst cases of load shedding in history. This not only tanks the quality of life in our country but also supplies a brutal gut punch to the belly of our economy. Each day of the stage-6 load shedding schedule we were recently subjected to cost our economy over R4 billion in GDP. The grim reality is that Eskom is willing to strangle and drag us down with it as the weight of its accumulated failures pushes it deeper and deeper into the ground. If, for some reason that escapes my realm of understanding, you don’t see things this way, consider Eskom’s recent proposal of new tariffs that would see us paying more money beyond the absurd cost of electricity for simply being connected to its grid. The brainlets that make up the Death Star’s High Command would now see us pay an additional monthly utility bill based on how much energy we consume, a system that would reward high energy consumption households with lower utility fees and lower consumers with bigger bills to pay. If you are somehow within your means to supply your house with energy through renewable and sustainable resources, Eskom is preparing to charge you R938 per month for taking your house off the grid. So much for the promise of a greener future. Kaantie, Eskom has found a way to tax your use of the sun.
During last Thursday’s SACP conference, we got an opportunity to hear the President’s thoughts on the matter of Eskom. Personally, I wish he’d kept them to himself. Cyril Ramaphosa’s proposed solution to the problem appears to be creating another Eskom – the definition of insanity. Echoing the opinions of Mineral Resource and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, Ramaphosa used his time on the podium to address the idea of ending Eskom’s monopoly on power production in South Africa. He even suggested it would be a good thing. However, instead of discussing opening up the market, he spoke about creating a second state-owned power company to rival Eskom. Record scratch. What?
The President has since backed down from the idea after the backlash he no doubt saw coming. But I wouldn’t rule it out; in all likelihood, this was his way of testing the very troubled waters the ANC has been sailing around since 2008. According to Ramaphosa, “We should not diminish the central role of the state in coordination, in planning, in guiding, in enabling the development of the economy”. Eskom, a state-owned enterprise, is the harbinger of our power problem to begin with so why, oh why is the President publicly suggesting an Eskom 2.0 at all? And while he may have since retracted these outlandishly idealistic statements, the thinking behind it still makes for a giant hill from which to backpedal down.
After nearly 15 years of load shedding, it seems crystal clear that this is the time for the private sector to roll up its sleeves and step in
Last week, I stood in line outside Home Affairs for 4 hours only to be turned away as I reached the door because the systems were down on account of load shedding. All the while, the man in front of me droned on about the state of the nation and its “imminent demise”. It is among my biggest fears that I become this man or anything of the like. I want my belief in a brighter future here to prevail. It’s just hard to see things that way – or to see anything for that matter – when the lights keep switching off.