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Karpowership fluffs its lines: Horrible PR reveals all...

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Karpowership fluffs its lines: Horrible PR reveals all we need to know


Alexander Parker is a journalist and consultant. His work has appeared regularly in a number of South African newspapers and magazines. He is the author of ‘25 Cars to Drive Before You Die’ and his latest book, 50 People Who F**ked Up South Africa: The Lost Decade, is in bookshops now.

It requires entitlement and ignorance to think you can walk into South Africa and hide looting with a smokescreen of racial disharmony and get away with it, even if you’re a big London PR company. After watching Bell Pottinger collapse under the weight of its own disgusting track record, you’d think people would pay more attention.

Perhaps it is precisely because the space is so poorly understood that there are so many nincompoops claiming to be communications professionals.  Altogether too many people are unable to discern between marketing, PR, crisis and strategic communications, lobbying and the writing of speeches and opinion. Some people are good at one or two of these things — and they are very useful indeed. A few can do it all, and they are very expensive and usually very picky about who they work for.

South Africa resembles the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. If Mount Everest were moved there, there’d still be 2km of water between the summit and the surface of the Pacific. At pressures more than 1,000 times that of the atmosphere — pressures you would expect no living thing to endure — strange, scary and ugly creatures have evolved to thrive.

People who don’t know South Africa fail to see that this pressure, lack of light, scant resources and thin oxygen affect all living things in the environment, not just the government and the ANC. They see opportunities to make retire-tomorrow money. They see cadres in all the right places — rapaciously indifferent to the suffering of their victims — lining up their big payday just like they were told would happen. 

But they don’t see the other javelin-toothed, glutinous, slime-eyed and merciless creatures that live here — ungovernable journalists, judges, incandescent opposition politicians, litigious NPOs and livid Twitter sleuths.

Either way, Karpowership is rapidly discovering that it needs better communications people. It’s interesting that the various B-grade nitwits it has been reduced to relying upon are the best it can do these days, having once had a reputable communications company on retainer. Why don’t serious people want to work with them?

Perhaps it’s because they know what waits in the dark.

Patrick O’Driscoll, Karpowership’s sales boss long on the radar of people watching the sketchy Karpowership SA 20-year “emergency” procurement, has been forced to break cover, probably because of his discomfort over the horrible press the company’s deal with Gwede Mantashe’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has received.

In doing so, he penned an op-ed piece in Business Day — or at least, his people penned it and he signed it. A summary of his arguments for the implementation of a quarter-trillion rand, environmentally ghastly and absurdly long deal is as follows.

  • Load shedding is bad;
  • Unemployment is bad;
  • R218-billion is a lot but at least that’s all it will cost;
  • We will invest R1-billion of those R218-billion in South Africa;
  • Medupi and Kusile are corrupt and we are not corrupt;
  • Gas is clean compared to killer, toxic coal fumes; and
  • Base-load is important.

The first two points I’m just going to leave. A foreign businessman in bed with the same government that vandalised our energy infrastructure making lists of South Africa’s problems resulting from said vandalism, and saying they’ve got the R218-billion magic bullet, is beautiful enough to leave intact for all to see. Put it in a glass case and leave it in the hall of the International Museum of Corporate Brass Neck.

The “cheap” quarter-trillion rand thing is offensive because a) it’s hellishly expensive and b) it’s almost 100% extractive. The money just walks offshore, to Karpowership and the gas suppliers, all for what amounts to one stage of load shedding. That the argument “we’re not corrupt” is a unique selling point tells you plenty about the people who wrote the op-ed, but doesn’t make an argument in favour of this dirty, inefficient technology.

Next, gas is tolerable as a short-term emergency interim solution. But a 20-year deal reveals the lie behind all of this. Karpowership started building these massive floating power stations in 2015. They did this because there was a “need in the market”. Maybe South Africa was on their radar. Maybe somebody would have suggested this.

In the six years that have passed, South Africa could have built tens of thousands of megawatts of cheap renewable infrastructure and removed sputtering 60-year-old coal-fired power plants from the grid, instead of waiting on these floating gas geysers that — in our most recent bout of “load shedding” — would not have been able to stop rolling blackouts in any case.

Finally, I have no idea why O’Driscoll is wittering on about base-load. This is an emergency procurement to help Eskom cover its peaking problems, is it not?

We can’t know for sure, but if Karpowership and its friends in the government manage to bulldoze this deal through, you can wager that this is the Trojan Horse for utility-scale gas-powered electricity infrastructure in South Africa. That’s big CapEx, brought to you by the same people who brought us Medupi and Kusile, our new coal power stations that have never worked and never will, despite the hundreds of billions they cost us.

Renewables, however, are cheap to build and require no input contracts (oil, gas, coal, diesel etc) or logistics contracts and facilitation (ports, roads, harbours, trucks, pipes etc). Despite its world-class talents in this area, even the ANC can’t find a way to insert its cadres into the supply chain for sunshine, and this is a problem because the host — Eskom — is dead, and the parasite needs to move on.

O’Driscoll does seem pretty exercised about all of this — exercised enough to put his name to a weak and revealing op-ed. I wonder whether Karpowership really built these ships for us, and whether there was even a contract. Either way, he may be about to discover how ugly the creatures at the bottom of the sea can be, and what gigantic pressure does to ordinary little fish who just want to swim.

Here’s some communications advice: try to match your message to your audience. If you’ve got no strong arguments for your dirty, non-compliant and politically connected energy deal in a structurally corrupt country, don’t write op-eds in business newspapers revealing exactly how little the deal has going for it. It could be counter-productive. DM/BM


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All Comments 35

    • But it still hasn’t been stopped. Surely blocking / cancelling the contract is more important than making fun of it and watching it go ahead?

        • I’m pretty sure that if we start a crowdfunding campaign we will raise enough money to attack this from all sides and keep in in the courts for 10 years (knowing how long courts cases takes with the SA court system).

          I would rather pay good money to stop this diabolical cesspool of corruption now that let it go ahead and then having to pay for it for the next 20 years, only so that a few ANC fat cats can make billions.

  • I love the Mariana Trench anology. And the gist of the story hits exactly where it matters. Right in the centre. There is nothing anyone can add or take away to improve the article. Shot my bra.

  • There seems to be a simple solution to this open theft of taxpayers money – first get rid of the anc and gwede will go with it. But in the mean time, should cr have the b$lls, he can just ask gwede to go. The anc should follow …

  • The powerships should be sunk and those involved with them. But renewables are not cheap and don’t prevent blackouts. Go ask South Australia, Texas, California, Germany, etc.

    • Oh, come on! Germany – so many solar roofed houses feeding back into the grid, it resulted in too much supply and payment for input was stopped.

    • I notice you are hostile to renewables in your comments. Perhaps you would care to send DM an op-ed on why etc. Or maybe you could join Ted Blom in his quest to build multiple small scale Russian nukes in a country where they cant even run their one nuclear plant properly.

  • Even a dodo like me with no science, commerce or legal background, (art – yes) could ‘see through’ a 20 year ’emergency’ deal when it was first announced ! Imagine a 20 year ’emergency’ – only an ANC cadre (with an MBA to top it! – probably from Trump university) could come up with such a harebrained idea ! lol ! I need a shot of Tyilo to make my day !

  • Time for us to forget what the government can do for us, think COVID 19, and start building smaller community based solar/wind facilities to help ourselves.

  • Right on. Call a spade a Paddy. And nowhere did you have to point a funger at the Dinosaur Toad who brought us to this point. Disgusting self-serving loathsome creatures that lurk in darl corners of the Union Buildings taking only what they can steal and giving back nothing but blabber. Incapable of making a single item themselves unless given to them on a plate. Talking about you mr.MBA . And Paddy boy take your Turkish Delights back to Ireland you nitwit.

  • This quote from this article says it all “Renewables, however, are cheap to build and require no input contracts (oil, gas, coal, diesel etc) or logistics contracts and facilitation (ports, roads, harbours, trucks, pipes etc). Despite its world-class talents in this area, even the ANC can’t find a way to insert its cadres into the supply chain for sunshine, and this is a problem because the host — Eskom — is dead, and the parasite needs to move on.”

  • Nice article. I wish we had a way to tell this guavament to go and use our hard earned tax money for looking after the problems ourselves. Unfortunately we have an uphill battle with a tribal mentality that believes that the chief in charge is always right regardless of his misdemeanours…….even stealing the old age pensions from their elders did not get much uproar.

  • Brilliant, Alexander! Cracked me up – even as I wept into my coffee! Gift of the Givers could sort this out pronto which is where I want my taxes to be channeled!

  • Love the analogy of the creepy things that live in the deep, dark of the ocean, evolved to operate in darkness.
    Perhaps that’s why they don’t like solar.

  • Amazing thing about Eskom and the DME is how in the same week, bad press for its new favourite big toy “powerships” and stage 4 blackouts coincide predictably. And then miraculously its followed by a 9-day clear run.

  • Well said Mr. Parker. Can`t wait to see what else come out of the woodwork. Civil society has a role to play in halting this scandalous attempt at further looting. If all else fail, the Courts remain our last hope.

  • I wonder who carries the risk on the 20 year USD fluctuation and the LNG price on this PPI? the beauty of solar and wind is all your costs are fixed upfront, the only variable is the lending rate on your and that closely tracks CPI.

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