Friends & Friction: Like a gynae called in to perform heart surgery

2014-12-17 14:00

It is a great pity that racial innuendo always creeps in when we South Africans hold difficult conversations, especially those of national importance such as load shedding.

Black people generally become defensive, and not without reason. When Helen Zille, the leader of the largely white DA, calls her black countrymen and women “refugees” in their own country, you start to doubt the sincerity of her followers.

The incisive words they utter are treated as weapons of war instead of the scalpels needed to operate on the patient.

As a friend of mine always says: “Never waste a good crisis.” Load shedding should become the one thing that unites South Africans because it affects us all, regardless of race.

First, let us deal with questions of the pessimists who, by the way, are on both sides of the colour divide. Their argument is that in the early 1990s, South Africa had excess power, and had to mothball some of its power stations.

That may well be true, but here are a few facts to consider: For as long as I lived in KwaThema on the East Rand, power outages were an annual winter experience. It would be pitch black while Wright Park shimmered in the distance.

Load shedding as we now know it was for blacks only. As a result, the bottom drawer in my grandmother’s bedroom was for candles, candlesticks and matches.

There was never any warning. The same applied to water, by the way.

During that period, most township houses didn’t even have electricity. South Africa was a pariah state, and local production had ground to a halt.

The coal mines that provided fuel for the mothballed power stations lost business and were shut down.

So the excess capacity was not as a result of careful planning and growth, but because of a dying economy and a discriminatory environment. Only a fool would be proud of the spare cash in his pocket while there is nothing in his stomach.

Poor former president Thabo Mbeki – he has become the scapegoat for most of our miseries. Fingers are pointing at him for dithering and opposing the engineers at Eskom when they warned him and his government of the pending power crisis.

“The evil that men do,” said Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, “lives after them. The good is often buried with their bones.” Mbeki made mistakes, like all of us in our various positions, but I doubt if his intention was to harm the country.

There were other equally pressing issues at the time. This is a problem many families face: “Do I fix the roof over my head this month or do I take my car in for a service?” You choose to fix the car, and hope the rainy season doesn’t come early, only to be hit by something else unexpected.

Money is not infinite. Mbeki and his government had to make difficult choices. He built millions of houses and Eskom electrified most of them, even in the remotest of places.

He provided grants that pulled millions of families out of abject poverty. The economy has grown and so have the demands for power. It is a virtuous cycle, a rich man’s disease if you will.

Granted, yesterday’s triumphs won’t make us the champions of tomorrow. Eskom management needs to lead the solutions to the power crises and not abdicate it to the bureaucrats at the National Energy Regulator of SA.

The new CEO of Eskom, Tshediso Matona, is himself a bureaucrat who can deal well with the regulators, but therein lies the risk of failure for him. They all see the world from the same perspective.

He is good at political speak, but not at what the world hears. He chooses his words carefully. He said: “There is no crisis at Eskom.” That may well be true, but people are more concerned with the crisis in the nation than inside the utility.

He is a well-educated man with an impressive CV, but he is a bit like a gynaecologist who’s been called to perform open-heart surgery.

His success lies in utilising his most pedantic and ruthless engineers who know how to deliver more than debate.

In the meantime, he needs to reassure all South Africans and the investment community that the future looks bright.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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