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