Ramaphosa: Eskom restructure gaining traction - even among naysayers

(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)
(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

While South Africans and opposition parties wonder when to expect the next round of rolling blackouts, President Cyril Ramaphosa says his restructuring proposal for Eskom is gaining more traction after initially being met with considerable opposition.

Government pulled back on its load shedding programme on Sunday, just days after announcing how complex the issues were at Eskom and that it had no clue how long the power outages would last.

The president was responding to questions raised over the state of Eskom during a public engagement with members of the Hellenic, Italian and Portuguese Alliance of South Africa on Tuesday evening.

The discussion also focused on the future direction of the country in business, politics and government.

Ramaphosa told guests - who filled the venue to capacity - that more and more people were warming to his proposal to restructure Eskom.

He announced during his State of the Nation Address in February that government would seek to unbundle Eskom and allow for it to be split into three companies operating under one large holding company.

The news was met with resistance from some within both the ANC and its alliance partners as well as unions affiliated with Cosatu, which is a member of the tripartite alliance.

"The wrong things that were done at Eskom have impacted the nation and the chickens have come to roost," said Ramaphosa.

He said government then invested its money in power stations Kusile and Medupi only to find those were designed badly. The president also cited damage to electricity infrastructure caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai in Mozambique as another problem that led to the recent bout of load shedding.

The president said one of the reasons the risk of load shedding was reduced was because the South African National Defence Force had managed to restore one pylon in Mozambique.

"Eskom is a huge risk to our economy, to our country, and that's why we came up with a restructuring proposal. Restructuring is starting to make sense in their own minds," he said referring to those who had been skeptical about this idea.

Municipalities a 'grey area'

The president also shared some thoughts about the state of the country's municipalities, agreeing with those who complained about local government in the country.

"Some of them don't even have a tax base, they are not even able to raise money, some of them are not even able to pay salaries right at this point in time," said Ramaphosa.

Describing local government as a "grey area", he said greater focus and concentration were required to address those challenges.

Ramaphosa also reminded guests that South Africa had previously identified 57 distressed municipalities - a problem Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize has been tasked with addressing.

"When we invite investors, they don't come and invest at the Union Buildings, they don't invest in Premier David Makhura's office, they invest in the local municipality areas where the factories are," said Ramaphosa, who added that this was reason enough to have greater focus on the state of municipalities.

He also promised to look for the right people to help turn around the country's municipalities.

"We are ridding ourselves of many impediments, some were malfeasance, corruption, people who had hidden agendas," said Ramaphosa. He added that clearing these up would allow for the right solutions to come to the fore.

He also insisted that government would still go after those who had stolen money from the state to get the funds back.

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