How accountable?

2008-01-29 00:00

The rogues' gallery published on the front page of a Sunday newspaper clearly indicates who are primarily responsible for the major electrical crisis in which the country finds itself. They are President Thabo Mbeki himself, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, who told Parliament in 2006 that there was no national energy crisis, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who as Energy Minister failed to tackle the impending crisis, Thulani Gcabashe, former Eskom CEO, who, likewise, failed to forestall the crisis, and Jacob Maroga, the present CEO, who has been an employee at Eskom for over a decade.

Mbeki has admitted the culpability of the government in scotching Eskom's plans for investment a decade ago in the vain hope that private investors would step in to fill the breach, and apologised to the nation.

But Eskom's senior management has been equally to blame for the present debacle. It was remarkably spineless in accepting the government's decision even though it was well aware of the dire consequences in store for the country. But there has been no suggestion that any of those responsible might acknowledge culpability by resigning.

And dire indeed the consequences have proved to be with even the mines, traditionally the powerhouse of the South African economy, having to shut down, with the economy suffering catastrophic losses and unemployment staring thousands in the face.

The Democratic Alliance has called for Parliament to be recalled early to debate the crisis. It is certainly a crisis deserving of parliamentary attention and Parliament should be in session, but that it will reassemble is unlikely. The executive does not welcome a probing opposition searchlight, while the African National Congress faithful are unlikely to ask awkward questions.

One question which should be asked - and answered - is what is being done to generate more power? Are those who have landed us in this mess likely - or able - to get us out of it? Are power cuts going to become part of the "South African way of life"?

South Africa was hailed as the country which was going to be the exception to the decay and disorganisation which are characteristic of much of Africa. Are the Afro-pessimists going to be proved right after all about this country?

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