SA needs action, not personal shock and anger

The city of Johannesburg said Eskom's abrupt resumption of rotational electricity cuts on Sunday took it by surprise. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa awoke on Monday, February 11, exactly 29 years after, its first president Rolihlahla Mandela walked out of the then Victor Verster Prison a free man, incarcerated to the news that its power utility, Eskom has it back on load-shedding schedule.

The difference this time is the level of load shedding announced, communicated as level 4, the highest as explained. We also learnt that in an unprecedented sense six generators of Eskom packed up. At first, we were told its standardised scheduled intermittent maintenance work to be done on the equipment, then we heard more generators gave in.

Granted we had load shedding in distinct epochs in the past. Yet what can be argued we never had as communicated by Eskom is stage 4 load shedding. Eskom spokesman Khulu Phaswe, when asked about this notification, attempted to play it down as good spokespersons do. He explained that we have been here before in March 2014 when Eskom implemented stage 3 which technically was level 4. That being said, the record as communicated will make it clear that the current level 4 is the first in the history of load shedding.

Naturally, load shedding in whatever shape size or form has an impact on the economy as we heard Chris Yelland laments on a loss of R2bn a day. I am no economist nor do I purport to understand the technical aspects of exactly what parts broke in the six generators that have in level 4 load shedding. What we all know is that the strength of any country’s economy is measurable in the stability of providing energy. For this reason, China can show you directly how their economy has grown at the hand of its energy requirements, which becomes an indisputable means to assess where and how the country is growing economically.

However, the state of Eskom in having SA on level four raises many questions Naturally it has all of us a flood to comment. On Monday night ENCA’s Jane Dutton show among others hosted Judy Nokwedi of the BBC who also shared her or her organisation’s views on the load shedding crisis. Nokwedi made interesting points, in particular, South Africans have increasingly become educated on the usage of energy and have shown compliance. She also argued that a lack of 4000 megawatts in the period of summer must be explained by Eskom.

However, what Nokwedi in an increasing emotional rant next raised stunned many. She categorically exonerated the executive and board of Eskom when she laid the blame squarely on the part of the power-station managers whom she red-cards when she made it emphatic it’s not an executive problem. I paused to hear one of the leaders of the BBC articulate this mind and wondered why anyone would in the midst of this crisis choose to exonerate the board and the executive team of extreme high – earners from any blame when their collective mandate is to provide strategic and operational direction that imbibes a stable and functional and delivering power- utility. I again understood how the elites interwoven shared self-interest of friendships and business clouds the minds of many in this season. There are many who has an interest in an unbundled Eskom and Nokwedi may not be excluded from this crowd.

We all know that in the corporate world the performance of any entity rests squarely on the shoulders of the board and the executive team who are the custodians of the shareholder’s interest.

This brings us to the fundamental question, the elephant in the room, i.e., the executive and board of Eskom. We know that in January 2018 the minister of Public Enterprises announced a new board for Eskom and an executive for Eskom. It’s a year later and noticeably Eskom is in a worsestate incapable to fulfil its mandate to provide sustainable energy supply to enable economic growth. This occurs in a summer season when demand is significantly less than a winter season. 

What cannot be denied or spun is that Eskom has implemented stage 4 load shedding under the auspices of this executive team and board? Why are the executive team and Eskom board not held accountable on this score? In any setting similar to this there would long have been a call for marching orders.

Instead there is an incessant need to continue telling SA about Guptas. The rewarding Gupta-bad-name-economy is again abused to deflect the incompetence of an executive team and board who very possibly may not know the difference between a megawatt and megawatt per kilo hour definitions. Questions have long been raised as to how technically astute the Eskom board is to understand and lead the power utility.

To make matters worse we learned that caretaker president Ramaphosa who is currently at an AU sitting expressed his personal shock and anger at the latest news from Eskom. In an interview Ramaphosa shares his disgust and anger. This behaviour of Ramaphosa lends itself to ask more questions, did the deliverer of SONA 2019 not understand the true state of Eskom when he announced the unbundling of the entity? Why was he not informed less than a week ago of the true state of Eskom? Well in case you thought Ramaphosa was shocked to hear, we learned that Eskom will issue a statement after it was summoned to the Pretoria office of the Pravin Gordhan. Clearly, Gordhan wanted answers. Now if Gordhan wanted answers it means he too was uninformed, why would the Minister of Public Enterprises who is to brief the president equally be irate because he is in the dark?

Who then in mandate description is to inform the minister if not the Board and its Executive team? We can only surmise the Board and the Executive as equally shocked. If Ramaphosa and Gordhan are taken by surprise on the Eskom latest who then had first-hand knowledge or was the board also shocked?  How can Eskom be this deceiving to South Africa? What is the role of the executive and the board in this? Is it again a case of Ramaphosa in vintage sense pleading innocence of knowledge on the true state of Eskom?  

It is becoming increasingly difficult to naysay the developing narrative of corporate terrorism where every time Eskom demands an increase in tariff the public is threatened with actions of load-shedding schedule. It also does not make sense that immediately following the SONA and the surprise for the unsuspecting minds news broke that Eskom will be unbundled in three parts, South Africa is dumped in darkness. What game is being played here, what is the political and economic objectives for toying with Africa’s largest power utility?

You appreciate it better when you realise what Eskom means in the economy in contesting elite group interests who all have understood the value of Eskom if it can be no more a public entity but secured in the hands of friends and partners as privatized. We must again lean on Noam Chomsky who told us long ago, “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”  We in a season where these words of Chomsky increasingly appear more than prophetic as unfolding right before our eyes if developments around Eskom as energy powerhouse becomes the subject of discussion. Eskom increasingly seems to be a defining aspect in the ANC, its alliance partners and economic interest role players.

Dare we assert what is at play at Eskom with the implementation of load-shedding schedules and the current level four denotation as introduced with the accompanying expressed shock and personal anger of Ramaphosa, Gordhan obviously the Eskom Board and its executive? Exactly who is fooling who in this orchestrated race to privatize Eskom with confirmed job losses in access of +20000?  Yes, we knew of the anticipated job losses for a considerable period of time, but on the same day that Mandela’s freedom is celebrated from prison, rating agency Moody’s told whoever wanted to hear Eskom will have to cut jobs. The fact that Moody’s could be this clear on a matter political leadership has yet not publicly admitted confirms how far developed the plan to privatize Eskom is.

While a foreign rating agency can be bold and instructive to tell SA that Eskom will need to cut jobs, the labour fraternities however defined in SA given what I have long ago dubbed the  “business of unionism” (how organised leaders at a personal level march with the masses in search for better living wages, to later comfortably recline at the dinner tables draped in tuxedos as shareholders of the same businesses it marched against) ethos stand cold, instead they threatening to march on the streets when legal action is perhaps the more appropriate action required.

Then again this is South Africa where we remain shocked and angry while we have the power, as the late Winnie Mandela lamented, the ANC is in office it is just not leading. I have added, the ANC while in power because of the poor, fails to lead as afforded by a 62% mandate in the interest of the pro-poor agenda, but the elite.   

I, therefore, hold no hope that the Eskom board and its executive will be read the riot act and fired because the thick layers of friendship and economic group interest of those associated with current Eskom board outweighs all else.  

Clyde Ramalaine is a Political Commentator and Writer.