Outages and accountability

2007-12-17 00:00

The SA National Consumer Union has issued a hard-hitting criticism of the government and Eskom over the recurrent power cuts. It points directly to a number of specific ways in which these outages have a seriously damaging and costly impact on every sector of the community. Forced to interrupt normal operations, business and industry are losing millions. So too are shops and restaurants that are plunged into darkness at this most profitable of seasons. Blank traffic lights bewilder and endanger motorists. Householders are having their holiday plans wrecked by the nagging fear that domestic alarm systems will fail and leave their homes vulnerable to thieves — and indeed, criminals are the only class likely to benefit in any way at all from what is going on.

Laudable as the government’s drive to extend electricity supplies to previously disadvantaged communities has been, its consequences were entirely predictable. Plain common sense tells that one cannot massively increase the number of electricity consumers without an equivalent increase in the generating and supply capacity. It is now evident that for 10 years and more this obvious need was stupidly ignored. Instead of planning sensibly and proactively in the past, government is now warning of bleak times ahead for another five years or more. If power supplies are inadequate this summer, what does the coming high-demand winter hold? And how embarrassing will 2010 be?

Having initially expressed outrage at the huge price hike proposed by Eskom for 2008 (with more to follow), government now seems comfortable with passing the costs of its negligence on to the consumer. Before meekly accepting this, South Africans need to make some demands of their own It is all very well that the president has apologised, but what has the Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs (still inexcusably silent) been doing all this time? That’s where direct responsibility rests, and it is past time for the public to hold officialdom accountable for its ineptitude. And why, if power is in such costly and short supply in this country, are we still providing electricity to our neighbours, most particularly to the self-destructive Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe? Should this government not be putting its own people’s needs first?

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