Monday 21 January 2008

I have the Sheds!!

by Justin Spratt

I am an Australian living in South Africa and have been doing so fulltime for the last 4 years. I guess people would qualify me as one of the few "skilled" people to moving to South Africa – the complaints about South Africa are usually followed by an exodus out of this beautiful country. I love this country and have no plans to return to Sydney, where I was brought up... well, I didn’t until last week.

Euphemistically called "load shedding", power cuts have been afflicting South Africans for over a year now. But nothing warned us citizens of the Tsunami of Darkness that swept through greater Johannesburg and much of the country last week.

For four days last week I had three, 2.5 hours of zero electricity - both morning, lunch and night-time peak times affected... for two of the remaining three days there have been "only" two blackouts per down.

Clearly this if far from acceptable and hardly befitting the economic power house of Africa that Johannesburg and South Africa call themselves; a city that boats first world banking and technology infrastructure.

See by-line!

For years we have been complaining about the monopolistic malevolence of Telkom for keeping broadband prices at a thousand times higher than the cheapest in the world... how ironic this appears to be now?

The state of affairs is anything but amusing however. There has been very little communication from the inept power supplier Eskom, and none of it useful and all of it post-fact. We read now that we need to reduce our national consumption of power by 20%... Why are we only hearing about this now? Where is the pre-emptive communication by our government officials asking for our help and warning the smaller businesses to prepare for it? Or asking for our understanding and detailing the situation?

I am not sure how effective either of these institutions is, but both the South African Human Rights Commission and the Public Prosecutor are asking serious questions. Let us hope they get some answers.

And it is not just the electrification of the country. The power is merely the icing on the cake. Mbeki has taken this country backward, favouring spending his time being an "African Visionary" (read: engaging in Machiavellian pursuits to thwart Zuma, someone so tarnished, possibly corrupt and also inept, yet vastly more popular than he!). The policing is in a shambles at the moment – strange, because it is kind of hard to believe it could have got any worse with one of the worst crime rates in the world.

I understand that there were several geo-political machinations that helped exacerbate the current crisis, not least of which the moth-balling of nuclear energy production. I also realise that pre-1994 policy didn’t factor in a large chunk of the population - or at least, not with an urgency. But nothing can excuse the last 13 years of mismanagement, and especially not the last 9 years of Mbeki's "government". Nothing can excuse the lack of national response and communication to the citizens that pay the salaries of these so-called providers of basic human needs.

Cosatu (ironically) sums it up best…

Eskom was not to blame for the crisis. "They warned the government years ago that they needed money to invest in new power stations, and applied to the government for this. "But the government refused to provide the money, which President [Thabo] Mbeki has now admitted and apologised for," said Craven.

Too little to late for Mbeki as more cuts are expected in the coming week. Here’s wishing for some new, younger leadership to keep this country on the road to reaching its potential. In spite of all of this, I am still absolutely passionate about South Africa and it is going to take a great deal more pain to make me leave.