Don't blame apartheid for the power crisis – blame it on the ANC

2015-02-11 07:17

In an alternative universe that is characterised by good and sincere governance, President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address will begin with a sincere apology to the nation.

The President of our alternative universe will admit that over two decades of bad energy policy plunged the country into a crisis. He will admit that the ruling party has blundered on its core promise to deliver development and “a better life for all”.

More importantly, he will outline an energy plan, which includes a complete overhaul of current energy policy. Parliamentarians will cheer when he announces that government is reconsidering governance of Eskom and other state-owned enterprises.

However, we are not in the alterative universe. In this universe, we need to explain to the President that his administration—read “government”—has the undesirable responsibility of governing the country. Urg.

Blaming apartheid: how far to pass the buck?

I despise apartheid apologists. I do not use the word despise lightly. But, I do not believe the democratic government should be allowed to use apartheid as a scapegoat for bad governance and policy blunders.

The now ubiquitous “apartheid did it” line is a gross manipulation of the national psyche.

Indeed, it is true that the power crisis currently crippling South Africa has complex origins. The apartheid regime had no interest in supplying electricity to black citizens (or “future foreigners”, as the National Party thought). The exclusion of black communities from the national grid meant a high demand and a low supply. Also, rapid migration to urban areas makes energy planning sort of nightmarish.

The fact that black communities were not connected to the grid was no surprise. In fact, providing electricity to black communities was a core pillar of post-apartheid reconstruction. Pillar one of the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme named electricity as one of the nation’s basic needs.

The ANC government boasts that it solved the problem by expanding the grid. This is false! The ANC government did not solve the problem; it simply created a new one. Load shedding is a new problem and apartheid is not to blame. The ANC is to blame!

First, the democratic government must shoulder the blame for poor planning. Electricity does not come from thin air—it is generated. The government expanded access to the national grid to flaunt its “good story,” without considering the strain on energy resources. Put simply, you do not solve the problem of hunger by giving everyone crumbs of a single loaf of bread.

Some will respond by saying the government did not have enough money to build new power stations. That, of course, is stinky gobblydook. State coffers were drained by nonsensical endeavours like the arms deal. The government invested billions of rands in outdated military technologies. If you think about it, it will be hard to maintain our prized 1950s war equipment without electricity. Karma!

Second, the national energy policy focuses on conventional, outdated and expensive coal and nuclear technologies. The government has ignored the country’s potential for cheaper renewable energy sources. This slows down development.

Like most people, I cannot fathom why the ANC government refuses to open the grid to private power producers. It is a puzzling stance. If demand is very high and supply is very low, why would any thinking person refuse to allow more production? Protecting the Eskom's monopoly makes no sense. Other than, well, Eskom is a cash cow and a source of political capital.

Finally, the ANC government must shoulder the blame for the pitiful response to the crisis. The Eskom board has consistently awarded inefficient managers.

I imagine that the board (a conduit for our government) thinks that if you award managers enough millions that will eventually piss electricity. Good luck!

The problem with Eskom’s inefficiency is that it results in uncertainty. Uncertainty is bad for the economy. Managers at Eskom lack an imagination, just like their successive ANC cabinet bosses. Individuals and businesses must rely on scarce information about load shedding. This prevents people from planning appropriately for blackouts.

Here is a simple idea. A majority of South Africans use smartphones. Eskom should design an online application (downloadable on smarphone and PC platforms) to inform area residents of scheduled blackouts. This will allow businesses, for example, to release employees during extended blackouts or for employees to reschedule travelling time.

You’re welcome, Eskom!

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