After a 15-year wait, the government has suddenly leapt into, well, more talk about how is going to solve Eskom’s rolling blackouts.
Only politicians seem to think making a speech constitutes action, no matter how heartening it is to hear President Cyril Ramaphosa actually address the most important problem in the country.
To say South Africans are skeptical is an understatement. Just a few weeks ago, Ramaphosa was talking about a second Eskom. When he announced the 100MW increase in self-generation capacity last year, it seemed like a breakthrough. But in the background, nothing changed. All the unnecessarily long processes and onerous red tape still existed.
I’d truly like to believe the president had been roused from his Rama-somnambulance, but based on the last five years. He’s all talk, no action.
If Ramaphosa truly wants to change things, he’d fire Minerals and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe, a self-confessed “coal fundamentalist” who is clearly trying to sabotage any shift away from the ANC’S patronage network.
This is a technology column, so let’s see how tech could solve the problems. Coal-fired power stations are like wooden galleons with big cloth sails to propel them over the oceans. Since those once-dominant forms of seafaring vessels were used by European powers to conquer the new worlds of Africa, Asia, and America, there have been numerous upgrades to the technology that powers ocean-going vessels. From steam engines, to coal, to diesel, to nuclear (for the navy), this technology has enabled faster and better transport. The same goes for outdated business models. Mister President, even if China has competing energy providers.
The future is in renewables, especially in a country with 300 days of sunshine a year. And batteries for storing that energy. But the ANC doesn’t have patronage networks in either of these, despite the absurd calls for “local content” that would create them.
Mantashe, and seemingly Ramaphosa, can’t look at the history of a technology – in this case how to generate electricity – without pining for the good old days, circa 2006 or 1652.
Every time #loadshitting re-emerges, there is a wringing of the hands from Ramaphosa and his cabinet about the power problems the ANC allowed to develop; with help from the Guptas and by over-staffing Eskom with under-skilled trade unionists that helped #PersidunceZuma get into power.
Ramaphosa has repeatedly made pronouncements about fixing Eskom, including this one from September 2015: “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened”.
It reminds me of that brilliant – but tragic – headline on the satirical Onion website about the never-ending spate of unnecessary gun massacres in the US: “‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens”.
Listening to Ramaphosa and Mantashe sounds so eerily like this spoof interview in that Onion article: “residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as ‘helpless’.”
Sadly for the ANC, the residents of South Africa are no longer being duped, especially after it emerged that ministers and their deputies – who earn around R2m a year – are issued with government-sponsored generators that have cost R2.6m so far this year.
Angry Ekurhuleni residents told Ramaphosa before last year’s municipal elections they had had enough: “no electricity, no vote” read hand-written placards in Tsabella.
How did he respond last October, amazingly with no sense of irony: “Which other party do you trust to ensure that electricity is restored here?”
Not even the satirical Onion could make that up.
First appeared in the Daily Maverick