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State Capture’s Role In Load Shedding…Why Is South Africa Really In The Dark?

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State Capture’s Role In Load Shedding…Why Is South Africa Really In The Dark?

We’ve just come out of a weekend plagued by Stage 4 load shedding, and reports are we’re in for Stage 2 for the rest of this week. I’m sure I’m not the only one starting to lose my sense of humour.

We’re all running out of puns and one-liners, and the once joking singing of the Simon & Garfunkel line, “Hello darkness, my old friend” is fading to a whisper.

South Africans are generally tough, resilient “make-a-plan” type people, but this is pushing us to breaking point.

We’re having to stand by helplessly, watching businesses close in droves, battered by the double whammy of rising Covid infections (apparently the 5th wave is now upon us) and relentless, crippling power problems.

And it’s not as though Eskom is really even trying to throw us a bone.

Are we getting any reassurance at all from the power utility that things will improve in any sustainable, reliable way?

The answer is a resounding no.

I will concede that every now and again, Eskom makes what it hopes are encouraging noises, showing us that they’re working hard to combat the multiple problems causing wave after wave of “interruption” to generation capacity.

Just recently, for example, two Eskom employees at the Tutuka power station appeared in court charged with the theft of about R100m worth of fuel oil.

Oh, and that’s per month.

They, along with a 51% shareholder in a supplier company, have been charged with fraud, theft, and corruption “in a crime in which hundreds of millions of Rand in goods and services have been paid by Eskom when such have not been delivered or rendered at the power station,” the power utility said in a statement to the press.

They’ve since been released on R5 000 bail each, and their trial has been set for February 21 next year.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s not convinced they will use that time to reflect remorsefully on their wrongdoings.

And how much difference will it actually make, anyway?

As Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter admits, “Eskom, and Tutuka power station in particular, continues to be the scene of the most despicable of crimes perpetrated by some of the very people tasked with the stewardship of this public institution and by unscrupulous suppliers.”

But the truly worrying thing is that these events are just the latest in a very, very long line of problems for Eskom.

South Africans have been living with load shedding for 14 years.

Although we tend to associate the worst of the problem with former President Zuma, it actually started in 2007, when Thabo Mbeki was the president. Later that same year, he made his first formal apology to the people of South Africa, saying, “We were wrong. Eskom was right.”

This was a telling reference to Eskom’s repeated warnings to the government in previous years that there would be severe implications for the country if it didn’t increase Eskom’s generation capacity.

Sadly, the admission changed precisely nothing. No amount of mea culpa was going to alter the inevitable trajectory of our doomed power provider.

In 2016, former president Jacob Zuma got on the bandwagon, saying, “I am going to tell the country [that] we will never, ever, ever again have load shedding.”

Just another meaningless promise.

Nothing changed, load shedding continued and, in 2019 alone, it cost South Africa around R120 billion and over a million jobs.

At the end of last month, the eagerly awaited fourth part of the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector was released. In it, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo concluded that former President Zuma “knowingly and willingly facilitated audacious looting and wanton mismanagement at the state power utility during his almost nine-year rule.”

According to the report, Eskom entered into irregular contracts worth R14.7 billion – mainly with entities linked to members of the Gupta family, who were not only Zuma’s friends, but also in business with one of his sons.

The truly galling thing is that neither Zuma, the Guptas, or any of their cronies, are suffering unduly under the knock-on effects of their corrupt actions.

Eskom, on the other hand, which supplies over 90% of our country’s electricity, is drowning, trying desperately to repair at least some of the damage created from the corrupt legacy left from the Zuma era.

Struggling under the weight of R400 billion of debt, plagued by acts of sabotage at some of its plants, and simply unable to afford to properly maintain others, it has no choice but to systematically plunge us all into darkness just to keep the entire grid from collapsing.

The result? Stunted economic growth and an investor-unfriendly environment. Not to mention abject misery for thousands of South Africans.

Eskom has now set up a project team, which it says is “supported by internal and external lawyers,” to tackle the recommendations made by the Zondo Commission and take “appropriate” action.

Exactly what that action ends up being remains to be seen, but forgive me if I don’t hold my breath – I may need it to blow out the candles after tonight’s load shedding.

Jokes aside, South Africa needs to see all guilty parties held accountable and punished for their actions.

What they’ve done has ruined businesses, livelihoods and lives.

It will take decades for us to recover.

Eskom has already warned we’re in for over 180 days of load shedding this year. Depending on the Stage, some days will see several outages in one day.

And when you’re looking at losses of R700-million per load shedding stage per day, the numbers quickly become mind-boggling.

Yet still Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.

And still our former President fights to avoid his day in court.

Only recently, his corruption trial was postponed again pending the outcome of his appeal to have the lead state prosecutor, Billy Downer, removed from his case. Zuma alleges Downer is biased against him. So far, the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal have rejected attempts to replace him.

The postponement was passed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the middle of April. Zuma was not in attendance, citing a “medical emergency.”

Am I the only one who finds this smacks of his contempt for the way his actions have impacted hardworking South Africans, who’ve had their lives and jobs disrupted every day, to a greater or lesser degree, by the scourge that is load shedding?

His trial is set to continue on August 15. Once again, there will be no breath holding on my part.

The problem is, the effects of fraud can be short-, medium- or long-term. With Eskom, the short-term effects were hidden. And even now they’re out in the open, the perpetrators being brought to book – even if that happened tomorrow – only really satisfies our need for justice.

It does nothing at all to address the medium- and long-term issues the wanton corruption has created.

As a country, South Africa is paying dearly – and will continue to pay for many years to come – for the sins of some of our leaders.

Businesses collapsing, jobs lost, higher taxes…how can we undo this damage? How long will it take? And who will pay the billions required to fix things properly and permanently?

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has said that, while it “may take time” for the guilty parties to be brought to book, they will eventually pay for their sins.

My fear, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of many concerned South Africans, is that by then, for hundreds of businesses throughout South Africa, it will simply be too late.