Power and fuel woes

2008-03-06 00:00

Despondency among South Africans is bound to deepen when, in a single week, the cost of petrol rises by 61 cents a litre and Eskom announces that all new construction projects, other than the building of a normal domestic house, have been put on hold for the next four to six months.

The escalating cost of fuel is not something of our own making, for it reflects a global trend in the price of oil. The sheer size of the recent hike, however, has set alarm bells ringing. It is also salutary to note that the cost of paraffin, on which the poorest of the population are dependent, has gone up as well. There will be spin-off effects, such as a further rise in the price of food, because growing transportation costs are inevitably passed on to the consumer.

The latest decision by Eskom in respect of electricity supply reveals how hamstrung this country has become. The focus has shifted to include the construction industry which in recent boom times has been flourishing. The effects on this industry of the ban on new building projects can only be calamitous. There will be job losses instead of job creation. A government with more foresight would have introduced some constraints several years ago in order to cushion the use of a highly pressured electricity supply. Instead, nothing was done with the result that this year an unprecedented crisis is having to be faced.

Paradoxically, in the same week, the Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, has trumpeted a significant increase, during 2007, in the number of tourists visiting this country. He envisages that the present target of 10 million visitors by 2010 will be met. There seems to be no acknowledgement that the precariousness around the cost of fuel and the limits on electricity supply, not to mention criminality and other problems, may have a negative effect on his prognostications.

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