Redi Tlhabi

Mabuza's Eskom comment points to need to 'reskill' ministers

2019-03-03 11:24
Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza at Nedlac sept 2018 (GCIS)

Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza at Nedlac sept 2018 (GCIS)

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Our government has a history of not listening to experts. What makes politicians believe that they can get by and succeed with just their struggle history, popularity and oratory skills, asks Redi Tlhabi.

Oh no! Our deputy president, David Mabuza has just boldly stated and repeated three times that our electricity crisis is a sign of growth. He used a factual but irrelevant fact to contextualise the current problem.

It is true that post 1994, when South Africa democratised, the new government had to make plans to deliver services to millions of South Africans, who were previously shunned by the apartheid government. It was not just electricity, but water, health, education and more basic services. 

This is not rocket science. It is an obvious fact. But it has nothing to do with the hazardous situation in which the power utility finds itself. And Mabuza would do well to read and listen to the diagnosis by his colleagues in the Presidency, Treasury and Eskom management itself.

Their assessment of the situation is totally different from the deputy president's who, just a few weeks ago, was appointed to lead a Cabinet committee to deal with the power crisis. It is therefore worrying that in Parliament this week, he demonstrated a paucity of information and understanding about the problems that beset the power utility – problems that occupied prominent space in both the State of the Nation Address and the Budget Speech.

The exodus of skilled executives, poor procurement decisions, corruption and political interference are matters of public knowledge. Add to that, the costly damp squibs called Medupi and Kusile whose design flaws and unreliability will cost billions to fix.

But Mabuza believes, not only is our ailing economy experiencing meteoric growth, but that the debilitating blackouts that drowned our productivity and well-being a few weeks ago, are a sign of growth.

Mabuza's statement is up there in lalaland, competing for "best out of touch with reality" award, with Minister Nomvula Mokonyane's proclamation, "Let the rand, fall, we will pick it up." She too was on the podium; confident, authoritative and paused for the obligatory applause. Of course, there is very little coming from her now about the harmful effects of an ailing currency and economy.

The buzz phrase coming out of some ministers' mouths these days, is "Fourth Industrial Revolution".  They talk about it as if it is something that is still coming. Hopefully someone has already pointed out to them, that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here. It is immense, all-encompassing and requires far more than just giving children tablets at schools.

Our government leaders are not the only ones who demonstrate a reticence or unwillingness to learn and embrace the dynamism that is required in modern times. Who can forget Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before the US Congress last year? He was meant to face tough questions over the data sharing scandal. But the marathon five-hour hearing revealed that the men (mainly men) who dominate the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees were ill-informed and uninitiated in the language of the sector. 

They were perplexed and way out of their depth as they failed to get Zuckerberg to adequately account for how the innovative platform he started, is now being used to cause harm in elections, the arms trade, race and people's private lives, whilst the company's profit have grown. The politicians did not ask him these questions because many of them did not understand what he was talking about.   

Perhaps that is what politics does, it creates survival based on attributes other than expertise and knowledge. Seniority, popularity and charisma are often far more important than a theoretical grasp, tactical expertise and practical experience.

From financial services to agriculture, all sectors have to confront the impact of technology, climate change and globalisation, and adapt accordingly. The world of journalism that I entered 21 years ago, is vastly different from the one I inhabit today. Everyone has to reskill. 

As more fields become specialised and intricate, it is no longer enough to just write stories – any stories. Even for journalists, there is an urgency to not just walk out of university with a journalism degree but to specialise in economics, climate change, gender, technology, health, science, energy, etc.

What makes politicians believe that they can get by and succeed with just their struggle history, popularity and oratory skills? Our government has a history of not listening to experts. Mokonyane herself admitted this when she was communications minister and revealed that South Africa has missed yet another deadline in the migration to digital broadcasting system. 

On the delivery of set top boxes, she admitted that the government had not listened to experts. Our former president Thabo Mbeki apologised back in 2007 for the country's power problems, saying "Eskom was right and government was wrong" for not investing in more electricity when it was advised to do so by the industry. 

Former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba was obstinate when the tourism industry flagged the cumbersome visa regulations. Whilst he may not have penned the regulations, he was the minister when the public debate got heated and when the regulations were up for implementation. He refused to engage and back down.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa is to succeed, he must be bold and appoint a Cabinet of professionals who are confident to work with experts, can hold their own in strategy conversations and are well acquainted with the theory and practice in their fields.

- Redi Tlhabi is an award-winning author, journalist and talkshow host.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  nomvula mokon­yane  |  david mabuza
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