Eskom: In the 2024 elections electricity is what broke the camel’s back

As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, a politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies. | File

As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, a politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies. | File

Published May 30, 2024


This is the most important and highly anticipated election in South African history since the 1994 dawn of democracy. Why are these elections so important? Trust in SA politics and trust in government has dropped to an all-time low.

Only about 22% of the population says they have trust in government. The distrust in government is off the back of such issues as unemployment and jobs, rising inflation, food shortages, and energy shortages, crimes and corruption, among others.

However, at the forefront of SA’s disenchantment in the ruling party is the energy crisis, power cuts and load shedding. Electricity in its entirety – be it generation, power disruptions and never-ending rolling blackouts – is the main issue that has decimated the South African economy and people’s livelihoods.

The energy crisis started because Eskom power plants were struggling to keep up with demand.

This is not because Eskom does not have enough energy generation capacity. To the contrary, Eskom has more than 50 000MW of electricity generation capacity in its current power fleet.

This as South Africa was once a highly prosperous country with a brimming economy that was primed as the gateway to Africa. We had plenty of electricity to levels where big major steel and aluminium smelters were given preferential subsidy rates to smelt and produce in South Africa.

At the height of this prosperity Eskom was supplying electricity to some smelters at 11 cents a KWh contract. That is how cheap electricity was back then during the heyday of excess capacity produced by Eskom.

The power crisis was self-induced. Over the past five years Eskom struggled to keep up with maintenance and fleet generation operational recovery programme and plant upkeep.

It came as a shock to most South Africans to witness the downward economic spiral due to load shedding and frequent power cuts.

There are 53 main official parties and several independent candidates contesting the elections, all promising to end load shedding once and for all.

Some make very bold statements and non-realistic claims on how they will go about ending the energy crisis in a bid to garner votes.

The mood on the ground politically has been somewhat unpredictable. This time around voters are not relenting, they are not buying into the usual political rhetoric spewed by political parties and their leaders. It is so bad currently that communities are chasing away political parties from entering their homes and communities due to their disappointment and distrust in government.

This whole electricity crisis mess lands itself wholly on the doorsteps of political parties on either side of the table, the ruling party and the opposition. They all have a hand in the current energy crisis the country finds itself in. Politicians have come to resemble what was once frowned upon during the days of the liberation struggle, “com-tsotsi – comrade tsotsi”, the selfish sellout leaders in society. Today they resemble an elite class in society totally isolated from the lived realities of ordinary South Africans.

As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “A politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies.”

Ordinary voters are mere tools used to empower those aspiring for and those in political office to gain power. Once politicians are elected into office, voters are no longer useful to politicians. It is at this stage that voters reach their end of life as tools for political expediency and for those elected to office.

The voter must then make way for politicians to kick-start or continue their life and tenure in political office. Once again proving that voters are just a tool in the process of acquiring political power. Unlike the more advanced democratic political systems such as the Switzerland model where people are consulted regularly for everyday political decisions.

South African politicians use and often abuse voters and their support constituencies and couldn’t care less about their welfare and their overall socio-economic well-being.

According to the Constitution, South Africa was designed to be a constituency electoral system. Political parties leading the state and government should at all times be consulting and taking a mandate to govern from the people. Constant engagements, deliberations and consultation with the people at all levels should be the norm in our society, in accordance with our Constitution.

The state is failing to fulfil that social pact with its citizens. This explains the reason why South Africa moves from one crisis to another; the energy crisis is just the precipice of a failing state. Because those who hold political offices vehemently refuse to go back to the ground and consult, to take a leading mandate, according to the Constitution, from the people. Elections come and go and the ritual continues five years thereafter.

And very little changes except the colours of the T-shirts of those entering and occupying political office for the next five years. South Africans cannot afford to suffer any longer. May the winners usher in lasting growth and prosperity.

However, the outcome of the elections is unpredictable. The only constant is that there will be a coalition government come the end of elections. Which way that coalition goes is anyone's guess. As to which party will secure the seats of power in Parliament and hold the office of the president, that the voters will decide.

The hope in this election is to return South Africa to its constituency electoral system of power that rests in the people.

But one thing is for sure: In the 2024 elections electricity is what finally broke the camel's back.

My only advice to whomever comes into power is that ending load shedding and power cuts is easy: you need to fix and properly maintain power plants as well as future proof the generation plan by building brand-new power stations and adding additional generation capacity to the grid. We also need to defer any coal plants’ end-of-life plans.

That doesn’t mean that gearing up new forms of energy such as renewable or nuclear is off the cards. It is just securing South Africa’s sovereign right to a stable baseload power to ensure the country’s growth.

Do this and it will encourage new investment to flow into South African shores, and new jobs. Incomes will be created, thus reversing the current surge of high unemployment and economic hardships, making South Africa once again a prosperous country.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of “Business Report” and Independent Media.