Having cut short his visit to the Aswan Forum for Peace in Egypt, President Cyril Ramaphosa landed in South Africa and headed to Eskom where, after listening to a briefing by both the board and management teams, he expressed his legendary “surprise and shock” at the poor supply of electricity. Ramaphosa also went back 12 years and employed some of the oldest tricks his predecessors have used to great effect to avoid culpability for the Eskom supply crisis.
“As we were already mid-course on our journey (to Egypt), we got to hear that the country had gone into Stage 6 of load shedding, and that surprised and shocked us. And I immediately felt that it was necessary that I should cut my visit short and return to the country,” said Ramaphosa, addressing the media at Eskom headquarters in Johannesburg on Wednesday 11 December 2019.
Those old enough among us, even older than Daily Maverick itself, will know that the government introduced “sabotage” to explain the load shedding December 2007, the very first incidence of power rationing in South Africa. Who can forget “the bolt” that was supposedly introduced by some malicious Eskom employees at the Koeberg nuclear power station in 2007, in the telling of the story by former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin?
Twelve years later, to deflect attention from the current supply failures of Eskom, Ramaphosa and his government have again introduced the concept of sabotage to explain away the dreaded return of load shedding. It’s an important issue.
The president said that an incident of load shedding cost Eskom 2,000MW of generation capacity on Thursday last week. He incorrectly attributed the alleged sabotage to the Medupi power station under construction at Lephalale. Without providing any evidence, Ramaphosa latched on to the alleged sabotage incidence without providing any evidence or detail.
Thirty minutes later, Eskom executive Bheki Nxumalo corrected the president and said the suspected sabotage incident occurred at the Thuthuka power station outside Standerton in Mpumalanga.
In the opinion of this scribe, the substantiation of the alleged sabotage incident is tenuous at best, and fanciful at worst. Just like it happened with Alec Erwin’s alleged “bolt sabotage” incident at Koeberg in 2007, the 2019 Thuthuka “boiler sabotage” incident will die a silent death once Eskom realised it has not a chance to prove it.
Just like Thabo Mbeki’s government could not explain away the lack of electricity generation in 2007, Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has been repeatedly embarrassed by costly electricity rationing that it has not been able to solve.
To be precise, Eskom has had three serious bouts of power rationing since Ramaphosa was elected president in February 2018 – in March and November 2018, and in September 2019. On all three occasions the government, through the department of public enterprises, has come out to apologise for the insufficient supply capacity.
Up until Wednesday, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has always been the face of the government – and the recipient of the near-insults – showered on a government that has repeatedly failed to deliver on its mandate of investing in infrastructure. Gordhan has since February 2018 come bearing a bag full of apologies from the government.
Solutions? Nada! Lutho! Hence I am writing this story, and hence you are reading it.
While Gordhan, and Alec Erwin and Thabo Mbeki before him, may have previously failed to timeously invest in the required infrastructure to pull Eskom out of its quagmire, Ramaphosa came out this week and promised the government would procure an additional 5,000 megaWatt (MW) of generation capacity to meet demand. To do this, Ramaphosa said the cabinet would meet on Friday 13 December 2019 to make a decision on how to procure the infrastructure investment.
In the end, Ramaphosa and his government failed to commit to a date on which to deliver desperately needed generation infrastructure, despite the glaring need in Eskom’s infrastructure capacity.
Again, in the opinion of this scribe, by failing to make an executive decision on new electricity generation infrastructure, the president failed to live up to the expectation – created by his premature return from an international trip – to once and for all rid the country of the burden of load shedding.
The only acceptable decision would have been forth government to commit to a date in which South Africa would have new, emergency generation infrastructure procured to plug the Eskom generation gap of 5,000MW.
What this failure to act means is that we will still be here this time in 2020, and the following two years.
In December 2020, Ramaphosa, if he will still be president, will again be addressing the country to apologise about yet another bout of costly load shedding. Only because he refused to take decisions today, and in 2018. For it is true that a stitch in time saves nine. And that the best time to fix what is wrong was yesterday, and the next best is today. DM