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Forget Stockholm syndrome — we are all victims of Esk...

Defend Truth


Forget Stockholm syndrome — we are all victims of Eskom syndrome — the parastatal has captured our speak

By Pat Pillai
14 Jun 2021 12

Pat Pillai has been an entrepreneur in the private and social sectors for over 30 years. He is one of the founders of LifeCo UnLtd He serves on the boards of AVPA; Impact Investing SA; and others.

Circa 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, with a patronising smirk on his face, famously proposed some classic spin: ‘Our policy is… called… Apartheid. It could just as easily, and perhaps much better, be described as a policy of good neighbourliness.’ Had Verwoerd’s National Party had the same PR agency that Eskom has, the Anti-Apartheid Movement might have been known as the ‘Anti-Good Neighbourliness Movement’. But we didn’t buy the NP’s bullsh*t, did we?

When we use Eskom’s euphemistic technical statement “load shedding” in our everyday language, we are active agents of its spin. Our word-of-mouth endorsement of its institutional failure is probably its greatest public relations coup. Yes, Eskom has captured our speak.

It is, on many levels, a capture campaign that has been under way for decades at the highest political, governance and senior management levels.

We are all angered and frustrated — but somehow, we all have our “load shedding” conversation daily to adapt our lives and working schedules to Eskom’s incompetence. We schedule our lives around Eskom’s stages of failure. The phrase “load shedding” diminishes the crisis. It co-opts us all into some national movement to rotate the load — like good neighbours.

Surprisingly, some media platforms repeat Eskom’s corporate spin by using “load shedding” quite generously in their reporting. While load shedding rightly describes temporary relief on an overextended generator, for example, what Eskom has managed to do is turn the phrase into a long-term national project and communications campaign.  

There are some children, now at high school, who were born by hospital generator. Load shedding is their “normal”.  

It is not scheduled load shedding. It’s rolling blackouts. It’s power cuts. It’s a power supply failure.

This power crisis, especially during this Covid-19 economy, is about a failure of political will and governance. It’s a failure of leadership. A failure of transparent financial management. A failure of execution.

This national failure is exhibited, daily, in every electrified home and business. It’s the most in-your-face theft of a public entity in recent history. And we have adopted the perpetrator’s language.    

But flip the context: if you and I fail to deliver the production goals or profitability for the company, we don’t get to describe this as profit-shedding. Or competence-shedding.

If you and I take bribes, shirk our fiduciary duties as directors and hand contracts to friends, we don’t get to call a press conference and label it integrity-shedding.

If you and I fail to pay the tax due, we could be criminally charged. We don’t get to call it tax-shedding in court.

Circa 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, with a patronising smirk on his face, famously proposed some classic spin: “Our policy is… called… Apartheid. It could just as easily, and perhaps much better, be described as a policy of good neighbourliness.”

Had Verwoerd’s National Party had the same PR agency that Eskom has, the Anti-Apartheid Movement might have been known as the “Anti-Good Neighbourliness Movement”. But we didn’t buy the NP’s bullsh*t, did we?  

Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki and Kathrada made sure of that. They called it as they saw it.

We ordinary citizens must call a spade a spade. Call incompetence, incompetence. Call corruption, corruption. Call theft, theft. Let’s start by calling a blackout, a blackout.

As citizens, let’s say it like it is, in all matters of public interest.

Until we are all conscious activists, in our own ways, we will cede control to those who seek to serve themselves.

Let’s speak our own speak.  Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get the real change we deserve in our country. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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All Comments 12

  • Wow, for once I am stunned. This article by Mr Pillai is so awesomely good that it will be pathetic to even try to comment (what this pathetic, me, have just done)

  • Absolutely spot on, congratulations. We as citizens need to be more vocal instead of going like sheep to the slaughter, let’s call it as it is. Installing inverters, solar panels (as I’m doing) at home is another way of meekly accepting unprecedented incompetence, foresight and plain corruption. Anyone heard of Joseph Goebbels and if so any similarities?

  • Eskoms spin doctors seem to have refined the ‘load shedding’ misnomer. Recently I have read it being described as ‘rationing’

  • And the other lamentations of “system vulnerable” or “constrained”, “replenishment of reserves”(diesel for the gas-turbine plants which are incredibly expensive to run) and “ageing (coal) power plants” from the dreadful Eskom spokesperson have become daily vocabulary. Parroted by the news channels (especially 702/eNca) without any effort to fact-check or understand. Most of the Eskom “6-pack” fleet (70’s/80’s) is at late mid-life/mid-life and if properly cared for would have been good for another 20+years. Apart from routine maintenance good practice, there were “lifex” (Life extension)
    programmes for the operational time-related components such as boiler tubes and drums, turbine blades, etc, etc,. Clearly, these have been abandoned with crisis (mis)management the order of the day-technically and operationally. Realistically for a power intensive country like SA, coal is an unavoidable essential for years to come. A reliable coal grid would have allowed a phased transition to low carbon instead of the panic approach now in play with all the evils that come with that.

  • Let’s all – and I include every journalist and radio talk show host here too – get behind this excellent idea, and speak no more of “load-something-or-other”. I prefer ‘power failure’, but ‘power cut’ or ‘blackout’ will also suffice!

  • I am a little taken aback by the comments sofar. My perception that people are generally aware of the tecnique of double speak was clearly misplaced.
    It was made famous in ‘1984’ by George Orwell, and since then all PR companies and corporate comms departments are using such. The Bell Pottinger episode also comes to mind where white monopolistic capital was firmly entrenched in the SA vocabulary.
    The cANCer is – sometimes masterfully – doing a lot of double speak, in other words using an euphemism to soften a negative issue, or talking about genocide when there was a murder or two.
    Generally speaking, the expectation is that most journalists are familiar with this technique and would then write the story as it is, not what the initiator want it to be. Perhaps I am somewhat naive to believe that all journos are cynical enough not to get caught out by this. Surely, the DM guys are more experienced than most in any event.

  • It does seem that words matter ! In China they call some things ‘retraining’ while in Russia they call the opposition ‘extremists’ … and in Israel they call bombing of Palestinian homes ‘safety & security’ operations … and so the list goes on and on. Oh yes … in America some even call an invasion of the Congress a ‘picnic of patriots’ ! The number of things done across the globe in the name of ‘state security’ are too numerous to mention.

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