South Africa: No Light at the End of the Tunnel…

South Africa has recently been caught up in a wave of blackouts mostly due to the country's main electricity provider, Eskom. Eskom has recently been getting a lot of flak from the South African population due to the “load-shedding” tactics being implemented to help it manage their electricity capacity and make sure supply meets demand.

Much of the frustration can be seen from the rants of the blogging community such as NVDL who writes:

In our democracy too we too quyickly wring our hands and say; ag, that's government, you can't trust them, and then continue on with our lives.” That's an abdication of responsibility. We vote for our leraders, we have the power to vote them in, and vote them out. What happens, as we all know, is after voting them in, they run amuck, because we don't really hold them accountable in a meaningful way. The media holds them accountable. But ordinary citizens don't seem to do more than read the papers, moan and groan, and then continue. We need to identify a system for accountability. Who do we address our letters to? How do we arrange town hall meetings? What is the process for impeachment, where does it start? How do we smack politicians on their wrists? How can we fast-track the firing of non-performers, liars and thiefs?

Our failure to act is essentially an endorsement, and makes us complicit in the corruption, and our national road to ruin.

Some bloggers even started whole blogs dedicated to this issue such as Es kom nie meer nie(Afrikaans for “It doesn't come any more”):

Blackouts, load-shedding, power outages…..these are words that were not part of my vocabulary a year ago! Now it rules my life, my work, my income, discussions, in short…my world. This week I had to cancel a few workshops due to loadshedding and my efforts to figure out what is going on (or off) have been most fustrating.

Eskom load-shedding schedule does not make any sense to me. And why do they have different regions that I have never heard about? I thought that provinces were created for a reason? Added to that, the load-shedding does not seem to correspond with the times given, so planning has become an absolute joke. Meeting times have become quite flexible as you really do not have any control over where you will be stuck in traffic. Yesterday it took me about two hours to get to Pretoria (Tswane) only to be informed that there was no power. This prompted me to make a quick detour to find a place whith power where I could work and reschedule meetings. I found a lovely pancake restaurant in Irene, overlooking Pretoria, from where I could recollect my thoughts, work a little, meet up with other meeters and consume a great pancake. So all in all, things “panned” out well. The people I was supposed to meet earlier, then gave me a ring when the electricity came back on and away I go. Amazing how fast we adapt!

Another blog dedicated to the crisis is

Carte Blanche broadcast a programme on the Eskom debacle last night. During the programme it asked viewers if they had faith in Eskom to rectify the problem. 109538 viewers (99%)said NO and 1216 viewers (1%) said YES. Now that is unity!

Salaries paid to Eskom directors exceeded R35-million in 2006-2007, according to Eskom’s last year’s annual report. Non-executive directors received R4,7-million, and executive directors and divisional MDs received R30 million, between them.

Now departed Eskom CEO Thulani Gcabashe received R6 million. His successor Jacob Maroga, in his then role as transmission division head, received R3-million. His current salary is yet to be published.

Other high Eskom salaries (including bonuses) in excess of R 2 million went to JA Dladla, key sales and customer services, Steve Lennon , resources and strategy, Ehud Matya, generation, Duncan Mbonyana, corporate division, Mongezi Ntsokolo, distribution, Bongani Nqwababa, finance director, Brian Dames, MD of enterprises, and Mpho Letlape, director of human resources.

In addition to the above Eskom salaries, several also received loans for house valued at more than R3 million each.

According to the Sunday Independent, even the Chairman of Eskom – former Minister Valli Moosa – also received R 1 million in fees for attending nine board meetings, three meetings of the sustainability committee and one other meeting.

Some are very worried about the effect on the South African economy:

Is this the beginning of the end? I was in total shock when I heard that Eskom has told mines in South Africa to shutdown their mines for between two and six weeks. This all in an effort to conserve the little power that South Africa currently has. Businesses of all sizes have been suffering over the last couple of weeks in South Africa due to the continued power cuts. Now the mining sector which is a huge contributor to the South African economy is now also starting to be hit hard. Eskom’s reasoning is that they can not guarantee power to the mines and do not want to run the risk of the mines having a power cut when miners are down in the mines.

The power problems in South Africa are now reaching vast proportions and this could single the start of a really tough spell in the South African economy. If mines can not operate that means no gold, platinum and other minerals are being produced and thus a serious loss in productivity and profits for the mines. And one must not forget that the likely hood is that, the miners still have to be paid even during the shutdown of the mines, now think how this will affect the mines profits if wages have to be paid but no production is taking place?

I hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel as this is not looking good at all. It is so easy for an economy to crumble overnight and these power problems are edging South Africa even closer to a catastrophic point.

Jacob's blog throws some irony into the issue:

It is shameful how white alarmists, and their puppets, have tried to blame the current Eskom problems on affirmative action! Do these people have no shame?

It is plainly obvious that affirmative action has turned Eskom into a far more efficient organization. Eskom has managed to cut their staff by almost 50%, thus making more money available for executive bonuses. I think Eskom should be applauded for this innovative action. They have set a wonderful example for the rest of South African industry.

Some argue that Eskom's monopoly is the cause:

“We have to ensure that Eskom's monopoly as the sole purchaser is dismantled,” Schmidt said.

Eskom's low tariffs had also made other producers reluctant to step in.

South Africa's electricity was about 70 percent cheaper than Canada's, which had the world's second cheapest electricity tariffs.

And, of course, we have those who like to add humour to a very serious situation; iScatterlings and Breaking News:

Translation: “Oh, come now…”

And Electric Spaghetti with Eskom and the de-Generators: Just Can't Leave a Light On For Me.

However, these jokes aren't seen as funny by the actual employees of Eskom, as can be seen from Mail & Guardian:

Eskom's information security manager, Krish Naidoo, sent an email under the heading “Abuse of Eskom email facilities” to the group communication department recently stating that “A number of ‘Eskom jokes’ are being distributed in the organisation. These jokes are defamatory, degrading, obscene and abusive.

“This is a request for Eskom employees that receive these ‘Eskom jokes’ to forward them to group communications and under no circumstances should these jokes be forwarded or circulated either within Eskom or outside Eskom.”

Andrew Etzinger, the general manager for demand-side management, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday that Eskom's employees — whether they worked in a call centre of a power station — were under “considerable” stress at the moment.

“The working hours and working conditions are a lot more extreme than in the past,” he said. “When they leave the office, even then, family and friends are constantly bombarding them with Eskom-related issues. It's not something you can leave at your desk 5pm.

“We are understandably the target of ridicule and abuse … this compounds the stress levels of our employees.”

Regarding the email about the monkeys in the call centre, Etzinger said it may be construed as extremely hurtful by some “less robust” employees.

Whatever the situation, let's hope the solution is found soon. Since South Africa is one of the worlds largest exporters of coal and other minerals, energy crisis in the country could affect the worlds economy and not just South Africa.

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