Business Maverick

BUSINESS REFLECTION

Business has saved the ANC’s bacon on load shedding. Perhaps a cheer is in order?

Business has saved the ANC’s bacon on load shedding. Perhaps a cheer is in order?
(Photos: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook / AdobeStock / iStock)

Everybody in SA is astounded at how load shedding has suddenly been suspended and the reflexive theory is that it must be because the 2024 election campaign is under way. But it’s slowly becoming clear that the real reason is because business decided to get involved. The government (in desperation) agreed, stood aside, and they got the job done.

The Business for South Africa (B4SA) group gave a report-back this week and its message was frankly astounding: load shedding will be over, but for Stage 1, by the end of this year and will be a thing of the past by the end of 2025. Really? Can this be true?

Like you, I’m still sceptical. But if it’s true (and it certainly looks as if it may be), then an incredible thing has just happened and business deserves a very large Bell’s. It is not just incredible; it is astonishingly incredible. Think about it: SA has had load shedding for 17 years. Business solved the problem in less than a year.

Of course that is a simplification. A lot of preparatory work was done before this. But the crucial change — and this massively plays to my priors — was that the government got out of the way.  And continues to stay out of the way. That alone, rather than a resurgent Eskom or huge extra expenditure on diesel for the peaking power stations, has made all the difference. 

Just take a look at this graph presented at the function by the business leader of the energy workstream, James Mackay. He used it to explain the path the National Energy Crisis Committee (Necom) has mapped out that will lead to average Stage 1 load shedding by the end of 2024. The aim is to achieve 6GW more power.

The critical thing to notice here is that although an improvement in the performance of Eskom has been factored into the model, the big increases are in new-generation photovoltaic power and wind power. And it is not just that they are important to the process, they are absolutely central. After the increase in Eskom power station performance in the fourth quarter this year, the model assumes Eskom will not get any better through next year, and presumably beyond.

All the improvements that will take SA over the line will be in renewables, plus a bit from the open-cycle gas turbines. Reflecting on this, Mackay said, “We saw huge growth in rooftop solar last year of some 2,600MW. It’s coming down a bit, but we expect the growth will continue for some time. What we also see now is significant growth coming through corporate utility-size projects. Our view is that we will probably exceed the numbers in this pathway by 2025. And, at this stage, there are no grid capacity constraints that will impact that.”

The improvement is not without cost — Eskom is burning masses of diesel but not, it turns out, more than it did last year or the year before. Mackay reportedly told the press conference Eskom burned R19-billion of diesel in 2022, and nearly R30-billion in 2023. Eskom has used less diesel year-to-date than in either 2023 or 2024. 

“It’s not a conspiracy theory. We are having a combination of good work coming together,” Mackay told the media. The head of the Project Management Unit in the Presidency, Rudi Dicks, said that the committee was tracking 22GW of pipeline projects, which are utility-scale projects applying for grid access.

These projects also require grid access, which is why the establishment of a transmission company is so important, and B4SA has pushed this through too. The National Transmission Company of South Africa (NTCSA) has been established with a board put in place to unbundle and separately manage Eskom’s transmission grid.

How did business achieve all of this? Seems it was pretty easy: business deployed about 350 specialists to power stations, Transnet, and various crime initiatives. B4SA estimates that they racked up about 7,000 hours of contributions (amazing they know that).

How is this all going to play out politically? What you would hope is that the ANC recognises the power of standing aside and letting business take up the reins. The problem is that this whole project has been run out of the Presidency. There is no evidence in the political campaign that the ANC or the government in general has any intention of changing its broadly anti-business position. 

What is more, the ANC only changed its stance when the party’s back was really, really against the wall. There has been no public admission that opening the markets in which state-owned enterprises are monopoly players is in any way important, useful, or even vaguely desirable.

What has been achieved is a much more positive set of relationships at the peak of the political process. It remains to be seen if, once the election is over, this newfound friendship and working relationship between at least some government officials and business endures. 

But the interesting thing is that business in SA keeps doing this in modern SA: declining education, suddenly there are Curro and Advtech; declining healthcare, suddenly there are Discovery, Life and Mediclinic; declining SA Post Office, and suddenly there is PEP’s Paxi service. And yet the latest round of legislation — the NHI Bill, the Expropriation Bill, the Copyright Amendment Bill and aspects of the Companies Amendment Bill — are all designed, wittingly or unwittingly, to further degrade the business environment.

In the meantime, would it be too much for President Cyril Ramaphosa to publicly acknowledge that his arse has been saved by the business community? Well, TBH, I think it probably is. Small steps, people, small steps. DM

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