2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS ANALYSIS
Load shedding is South Africa’s blight – and the ANC is to blame for it
This is the nub of the ANC’s problem – there is no one else to blame for load shedding – as well as so many other problems plaguing South Africa. Pointing fingers in anyone else’s direction is hypocrisy at best, lies at worst.
Last week South Africa was plunged into Stage 4 load shedding. Having massive countrywide power cuts is bad for any governing party in any country in the world– never mind just before voters cast their ballots, as they do in today’s local government elections.
But what makes this very difficult for the ANC is the fact that it is impossible to blame anyone else for load shedding – the problems at Eskom are entirely the result of bad decisions and incompetence while the ANC has been in power.
Even worse, the load shedding that has now gone on for 14 years is also because of the looting which occurred at Eskom on the grandest of scales, protected by the ANC under the leadership of then-president Jacob Zuma. This makes the governing party’s statements and reactions over the last few days to this crisis rather revealing.
While the media focus has been on Eskom’s recent Stage 4 load shedding, it is a fact that the lived experience of millions of voters is of regular power cuts through Eskom’s policy of “load reduction”.
The focal point of this has been in Soweto, where people have electricity for several hours a day on a regular timetable. Eskom says this is because so few people in the area pay for the electricity they consume (in some places it’s understood that less than 10% of people pay their bills) and because there are so many illegal connections that the utility’s transformers are overloaded, with load reduction then implemented to protect the transformers.
Many Soweto residents claim they do pay their bills and that they are being treated unfairly. They have protested against any action to install prepaid electricity meters.
This is one of the reasons that the ANC officials and President Cyril Ramaphosa have spent so much time in Soweto during this election campaign. It was an attempt to appease these voters.
Now, the entire country has just lived through nearly a week of what Sowetan voters live through on a daily basis.
The ANC’s reaction to this has been startling.
In a statement released by the party’s spokesperson, Pule Mabe, the party said, “The ANC is by all intents and purposes quite concerned that these acts may be the deliberate actions of some within Eskom for political ends.”
It provided no evidence for this claim.
Rather, it said that there was “inconsistency in information and assurances received from the utility”.
But this also may not be true. On the Monday before load shedding intensified, the top leadership of Eskom had held a press conference, taking questions and agreeing to interviews. It may be difficult to make the claim of a lack of transparency.
Also, Eskom is public with its information, and its system of issuing “power alerts” when problems crop up gives regular indications of what could happen.
Then the deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, asked in public, “What’s going on in Eskom, why is this thing not able to be resolved?”
She named Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and said that people are entitled to electricity.
While frustration during load shedding, and during an election is entirely understandable, the facts indicate who is responsible.
There can be no doubt that at all material times the ANC was in charge, and made the decisions that led to load shedding. From the 1998 government White Paper that predicted load shedding in 2007 (with uncanny accuracy), to the political disputes over who would lead Eskom, through the evidence of the looting of Eskom that we have seen at the Zondo Commission (which implicated people like Brian Molefe, Matshela Koko, and the ANC’s own energy minister at the time, Lynne Brown), to the situation now, it was the ANC which was in charge.
It is clear that those in the ANC understand how important this is to voters, as demonstrated by their own behaviour. The claims (made without evidence) of “deliberate actions” show this.
So do the actions of Joburg’s mayor, Mpho Moerane.
He said 10 days ago, in a statement released from his office, that Joburg’s City Power would be able to alleviate load shedding, through the use of the Kelvin Power Station, an independent power producer. Moerane said the city had signed a contract to receive 200MW from the station. That would mean that City Power would be able to protect Joburg from one stage of load shedding.
The statement was released as load shedding started last weekend. The statement, that the City of Joburg “rejects” load shedding, led to ridicule, as it was obvious that City Power was not in a position to stop it. It made no sense to do this, as it went directly against what people could see, which is that load shedding was being experienced in Johannesburg.
Just two days ago City Power said that it was Eskom that was delaying the implementation of the agreement with Kelvin.
This demonstrates both how worried the ANC is about Joburg and how it believes load shedding is damaging to the party.
But what is not clear is whether those in the party who criticise Eskom and its leadership have an end in mind, or whether it is just a tactic to survive today’s elections.
It is well-known that De Ruyter and his team (as well as Minister Gordhan) took over Eskom after it had been badly damaged by those who ran it in the past, who were appointed by the ANC. To remove them now, or to apply pressure on them in a way that could make their lives harder would be to invite worse outcomes for South Africa, even in the near future.
If, for example, De Ruyter were to resign, who would take over? Is there anyone in the country with the credibility, competence and ability to do the job who would take it?
This would be a bad outcome for Eskom and for the country. The science/technology of our situation, that Eskom’s power plants are old, need maintenance and have been badly run, cannot be wished away.
No political solution can defeat Nature and its laws. It is delusional to think otherwise.
And this is the nub of the ANC’s problem – there is no one else to blame for load shedding – as well as so many other problems plaguing South Africa. Pointing fingers in anyone else’s direction is hypocrisy at best, lies at worst.
It is difficult to assess what the impact will actually be, particularly in Joburg. However, in an election where turnout is important, it is possible that some ANC supporters will stay away, and some DA supporters will feel the need to punish the ANC.
But that is not certain. The ANC’s “Apology Tour” campaign may well have worked; for some people to see the president and the party humbling themselves through an apology could be important.
And the fact that by Monday morning there will not have been load shedding for nearly three whole days could mean that feelings on the issue have eased.
Unfortunately, there is another question that needs to be asked at this point. This December we mark 14 years since the start of load shedding. We next cast our ballots in 2024. Is the ANC able to say now that load shedding will be over by then? Unlikely. DM