Eskom, our Coal Mine Canary

PRESS ARTICLE: Eskom crisis exposes weaknesses in both ANC and DA policy

Eskom – Our Coal Mine Canary

In years gone by, coal miners took canaries underground with them. Their purpose was to warn the miners that they were in imminent danger from poisonous gasses, and to buy them precious time to evade an untimely demise.

Eskom is our coal mine canary and not just for the ANC.

In 2001 the Financial Times named Eskom its ‘Global Power Company of the Year’. The company had an AAA+ credit rating and it was producing the cheapest electricity in the world. Addressing a lack of investor confidence in South Africa at the time, executive director for resources and strategy at Eskom Dr Steve Lennon said, “This sends out positive messages about what new businesses in South Africa can do”.

Two decades later and Dr Steve Lennon now works in Australia, Eskom has a CCC- credit rating, electricity prices have outpaced inflation by 286% (with Eskom requesting a 33% price increase again this year) and South Africa has level 6 load shedding which leaves South Africans without power for 8 hours per day.

We know what must be done

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa personally headed up the ‘turnaround’ of Eskom and has been serving up empty promises for almost a decade. These culminated in a risible, and mercifully now abandoned plan to just start a new Eskom. Meanwhile Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer, who personally warned the government of the impending crisis in the 1990s, confirmed that Eskom no longer had the technical skills to maintain and repair its own power stations.

Unfortunately, not even this has caused the government to allow Eskom to accept the help of 300 technical experts which trade union Solidarity has arranged for them. Politicians instead instructed the parastatal to find a more ‘inclusive’ solution.

Credible experts are unanimous on what must be done to rescue Eskom, the success of which is absolutely critical to the South African economy, but ANC politicians have absolutely no intention whatsoever of doing it.

It is however not just the ANC who have lessons to learn. The impotence of DA policy has been just as ruthlessly exposed.

Tinkering around the edges not the solution

Predictably the DA took to social media to remind Capetonians just how lucky they were to only be experiencing stage 3 load shedding when the rest of South Africa was enduring level 5. At times politicians are hopelessly out of touch with ordinary people’s realities. It is highly doubtful that Capetonians were feeling lucky, and it must really have stuck in the throat of Kaapenaars located outside the Cape Town metro who got to experience level 5 with the rest of South Africa. They voted DA too.

As it turned out, when later the same day load shedding was escalated to level 6, Cape Town was treated to level 5 anyway.

The DA in the Western Cape must accept that no amount of tinkering around the edges is going to solve the numerous politically initiated problems that threaten to overwhelm us. We must give them great credit for keeping the sinking ship afloat for as long as possible, but if we don’t address the root cause of the problems at the same time, then everything else will have been in vain.

We know exactly why we have run out of electricity. We have a socialist government who insists on Eskom being a national monopoly and who have actively kept independent power producers excluded from the system. Cadre deployment has ensured that political goals have been prioritised above commercial and technical necessities. Race-based employment policies have stripped Eskom of skills and race-based procurement policies have led to endemic corruption.

Collectively, these policies have resulted in many more employees, producing substantially less electricity, at markedly higher prices. Eventually, as Margaret Thatcher so succinctly put it, you run out of other people’s money.

DA must be bolder and claim self-determination

As welcome a gesture as it may be, the solution is not for the City of Cape Town to add 300MW to the grid. That certainly won’t end load shedding. The solution is to abandon state owned monopolies and introduce capacity and competition to the market, get rid of cadre deployment and race-based policy, to recruit the necessary expertise at Eskom, and get politicians far away from any operational decision making.

All of these are DA policy, and the party simply has to be bolder

Even if one is possible, a fragile national coalition government in 2024, which is fundamentally divided on issues like race-based policy and must by mathematical necessity include either the ANC or the EFF, is not going to resolve the issues at Eskom.

The DA can’t do much in the provinces where voters still support the ANC, but it can and must in the Western Cape where the majority of voters have repeatedly endorsed them.

For the Western Cape, the CIAG believes sovereign independence is the answer, but if the DA think federalism is a better solution, then they must try an awful lot harder at delivering it. The starting point either way is claiming the right to self-determination for the province. That will allow the provincial government to stop asking for permission from a discredited national government and to instead demand the tools necessary to fix our problems by right.

When the coal mine canary falls over, you act with extreme urgency. If you don’t, you die.

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