Clearly, Eskom double vision is the best way forward for South Africa

Clearly, Eskom double vision is the best way forward for South Africa
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

If we can save Eskom by creating a second version of it, why not extend the idea to other organs of state? After all, the government is a maths wizard when it comes to multiplication, so it may as well multiply itself.

I’m a little confused. It was reported that Minister of Fossil Fuels Gwede Mantashe declared the solution to South Africa’s energy problems is to create a second Eskom, and it was further reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa had endorsed this idea when he addressed the South African Communist Party on the occasion of … what? A rare moment of leadership change, I believe.

Admittedly, it’s hard to believe anything Mantashe says, except when he’s groaning “Coal! Coal! More coal!” And it’s hard to believe anything the President might say to the SACP, because obviously the ANC has spent so long saying what the SACP wants to hear, and saying what the SACP wants it to say (see Morogoro Conference, 1969), that any such utterance has to be taken with a tonne of salt mined from the medieval Russian salt mines of Ust-Borovskoy.

And it was reported somewhere, doubtless in the Fake News Mainstream Media, that the President had walked that back, as the Americans say when they want to contradict themselves.

But I don’t think we should take that ­walking-back very seriously. What I think we should take seriously is this idea of a second Eskom, or you might say the Double Eskom Idea, and I believe we should thoughtfully extend that idea further into the mechanics of the South African body politic.

After all, this kind of doubling down is a key manoeuvre in the ANC government’s ideological bag of tricks. And it’s always a good idea to look at what a government does naturally or instinctively and see if that response can be extended, because if you let a government do what it does instinctively, instead of trying to get it to think afresh, you are likely to come up with more predictable outcomes. And then you can plot your own future trajectory in relation to that — dis­invest, vote them out, leave the country, and so forth.

It may just be the ANC’s persistent belief that the state is always the solution, even to problems caused by the state, but the Double Down Manoeuvre is clearly one such instinctive move on the ANC’s part. Look at the ­history.

The ANC government’s response to failures of governance, or government incapacity, is more governance — just as its response to laws that everyone breaks because they’re never enforced, or the cops can’t catch the lawbreakers, is more laws.

If the Cabinet is dysfunctional, and all those ministers and deputy ministers can’t actually govern with any competence, then the solution is to create more ministries, more ministers and more deputy ministers. (You will note how well this worked for Jacob Zuma, when he was paramount chief of the captured state.)

If the police are costing the nation billions upon billions in salaries (plus the odd grabber here and there), but can’t protect the people from crime, or from poison alcohol, or from roving murder squads hitting taverns filled with township residents getting drunker and drunker, well, the answer is to expand the police force. It’s certainly a well-established principle of ANC governance never to fire, always to hire. That decreases our country’s unemployment problem by about 0.01%.

Yes, it increases the state’s expenditure on hirelings, which is already badly out of control, but that’s something we can get the International Monetary Fund to worry about some time in the future, when the government is so deep in debt that it has to go begging for some structural adjustment. (And, in the meantime, at least those civil servants vote for the ANC, right?)

If the majority of the population can’t pay their taxes or are now unemployed so they have no income off which PAYE can be skimmed, and/or the tax take is down because some patsy like Tom Moyane has fucked up the revenue service, the ANC government responds by raising taxes.

If Eskom isn’t able to pay for itself, and isn’t able to rationalise its staff, and is deep in debt and about to go out of business because people can’t pay for it and its rates are too high, well, then, there’s your solution — raise the rates.

So that’s the pattern. The trick would be to turn this to the advantage of the long-suffering citizenry.

If, for instance, there are two Eskoms, and they are allowed to compete with each other instead of forming a collusive duopoly, then the public would be able to choose which Eskom to buy its power from. And it will obviously choose the Eskom offering the lower rates, which will strengthen that Eskom.

That is, of course, if the government manages to borrow the R800-billion or so required to set up that new Eskom, but let’s put that problem aside for now. Surely Mantashe can do a deal with the Russians, or the Chinese, or even the Turks, to finance that, and if not, well, that’s another problem the IMF will have to solve.

Competition is the key idea here, as it would be in a country committed to development, which is to say capitalism. This may be an idea (competition, that is) that has not fully penetrated the brains of all South ­Africans, especially not truckers and taxi drivers, but it is necessary to keep harping on it or we’ll never drive that development, will we?

There could be two ANC governments, for instance. Not two ANC parties — we have that already, in the form of the modernists (Cyril et al) and the traditionalists (Zuma et al). No, two ANC governments, two parallel structures or centres of power, that would compete for the nation’s attention.

The populace could switch between supporting ANC Government 1 and ANC Government 2, depending on which is offering what. If ANC Government 1 is offering more mayonnaise in your emergency food pack, say, you’d give your vote to ANC Government 1. If, however, ANC Government 2 came up with a special offer, say extra tomato sauce on your state-sponsored burger, then you’d switch to supporting ANC Government 2.

This would be a great advantage to the ANC government, whether 1 or 2, because it would distract the voting populace from the blatherings of the opposition.

We’d be so busy switching between ANC governments we wouldn’t be able to pay any attention to the opposition’s accusations of wastage, ­corruption, and so on. And may the best ANC win.

Ust-Borovskoy, here we come! DM168

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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