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COP26 deal is the distraction President Ramaphosa needs after #loadsh*tting

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

The ANC has blamed Eskom for the problems it caused while bemoaning a ‘direct affront’ to its election manifesto. It beggars belief how tone-deaf it must be to think that our weary country doesn’t know what’s really going on.

One day during my family’s much-needed break recently, we had electricity for only six hours of the 24 – thanks to #loadsh*tting and a blown substation in the seaside KwaZulu-Natal town to which we had travelled.

It was a stark reminder of the perilous state of the country, the week before local government elections on 1 November. It didn’t help that the beach was still closed because of a toxic spill from an unregistered chemical warehouse that was set alight during the July riots.

If ever there was a time the governing party would have hoped its Band-Aids on our battered economy could stay stuck, this was it.

Eskom, the most broken of our state-owned enterprises, is literally unable to keep the lights on. A technician at Kusile power station ignored a warning light for two hours, according to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. This caused the unit to trip and took out 600MW.

He’s since been fired, but I wonder which public sector union he belonged to.

Recent power outages were caused by “pure negligence”, Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, said last week.

Amazingly, the ANC managed to blame the problem on someone else. Only the ANC, which has been running the country for the past 27 years, could be so tone-deaf as to think a weary country doesn’t know what is really going on.

“Given the inconsistency in information and assurances received from the utility, the ANC is to all intents and purposes quite concerned that these acts may be the deliberate actions of some within Eskom for political ends,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, who frankly sounded detached from reality.

“It is also a direct affront to the ANC’s commitment in our manifesto to ensure safe and reliable electricity supply to our communities.”

Well, now we know it is “a direct affront to the ANC’s commitment in our manifesto”, I feel much better. Imagine it was something like an affront to an elected official that they couldn’t keep the lights on? Or an affront that cadre deployment and the reckless #PresidunceZuma’s constant meddling in SOEs to enrich himself and his cronies got us to this point, with the country on its knees?

Undeterred by reality, Mabe continued with his improbable rhetoric: “The ANC calls for leadership and transparency in explaining to South Africans the state of power supply and in order to make an honest assessment of whether the right skills and leadership are at our disposal at the utility under the current circumstances.”

I kid you not. No wonder so many South Africans have given up voting in despair. How can you expect ordinary citizens to have faith in the political system when the ruling party seeks to dissemble with such blatantly false double-speak?

George Orwell would be proud of how the hapless ANC is trying to convince the country’s helpless voters that the system is not so broken. Numerous polling stations reported power outages and, just 19 hours after the election closed, #loadsh*tting was back.

Just days after telling incredulous voters in Tsabella, Ekurhuleni, that “if you don’t vote for the ANC, then electricity may never be restored”, President Cyril Ramaphosa was at the COP26 global climate change conference to land R130-billion in green-energy funding.

“Through the political declaration issued today to establish this partnership, partner countries will mobilise an initial $8.5-billion over the next three to five years through a range of instruments, including grants and concessional finance, to support the implementation of our revised NDC [Nationally Determined Contribution] through a just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy,” he said on 9 November.

Thankfully, the governments of the UK, the US, France, Germany and the EU care more for the environment than our own, which has allowed Eskom to become the eighth worse polluter on the planet – and the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide.

During his final electioneering, Tsabella residents greeted Ramaphosa with placards reading: “No electricity, no vote.” I’m sure the president meant to be rhetorical when he asked them: “Which other party do you trust to ensure that electricity is restored here?”

It’s mindbogglingly disingenuous. Part of the current lack of electricity is caused by Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s lack of interest in, well, his job. There it is in the title: “energy minister”. Mantashe has wasted three years in getting the government’s once-lauded renewables programme back on the go – because of his irrational insistence on “cleaner coal”, unaffordable nuclear, and inexplicable favouring of controversial Turkish Karpowership, despite it not being a new build or creating jobs.

Renewable energy projects are now irrefutably the cheapest and, at 36 months to come online, take the same time Mantashe has fiddled while Eskom burns, as it were.

Luckily for us, Mantashe wasn’t in Glasgow conducting “research” on what energy-starved businesses want for self-generation capacity, or to get in the way of the grown-ups who are trying to save the planet from the ANC’s coal-mining benefactors and other interested parties who stand to lose so much if we move to renewables.

What does the country need urgently: ideological and inexplicable loyalty to polluting technology, or cheaper, cleaner power that could supplement the creaking Eskom grid sooner? Just ask the residents of Tsabella. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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