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SA urgently needs to flick the energy switch or face socio-economic consequences

Who would have thought that darkness, just the absence of light for an extended period, could have such a toxic effect? says the author. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Who would have thought that darkness, just the absence of light for an extended period, could have such a toxic effect? says the author. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Published Sep 20, 2023


State officials, Presidents, Ministers, Premiers and MEC's, and City Mayor's spend billions of rands on energy, such as fuel and electricity, yet in their personal lives they never pay a cent for it.

Because the state pays for all their expenses. Last week during Eskom’s severe Stage 6 plus electricity power cuts. Eskom appealed to consumers to cut down and use less electricity. But the same call is never made to state officials who enjoy the best of everything subsidised. This makes them out of touch with the reality of the everyday South African: the frustration, the cost implications, among others.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has brought such colourful interactions to the electricity industry. He loves using beautiful words such as aggregate.

From my point of view, on average the aggregate percentage of state utilization and wastage of energy resources is a far higher cost to the state. Most of these resources are spent and wasted unjustifiably.

I agree with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana suggestion to cut Treasury spend, known as austerity measures, and slim down the size of the Cabinet Ministers, thereby rationalizing all non-core departments, by turning them into inter-departmental functionary roles. It will save a lot of money wasted by the state.

For an economy to thrive and blossom post an economic slow down or meltdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, certain government stimulus policies and financial stimulus are required to kickstart the economic activity and processes.

The state must deliberately focus its attention on boosting economic growth that will lead to prosperity. To measure the level of economic growth, three factors come into play.

– One of the fundamental indicators of economic growth is measured through the observation of pedestrian activity in any central business district on weekends.

– The second is the erection of skyscrapers for new high-rise buildings in a city.

– The third is the data on production and manufacturing, together with the sales of cars in the country.

In my view, these three factors act as key indicators of economic growth and prosperity.

Currently in Sandton, the heart of Gauteng business, construction is at a standstill. I observed only four cranes in action at a development site along the M1 highway towards the Marlboro offramp - a terrible reflector of economic growth.

And this is borne out by our gross domestic product data, which shows the South African economy is under performing and piling on debt to keep functional. Many businesses have shut their doors and de-industrialisation of the country is occurring at a rapid pace.

Why? It is simply because there is no money circulating in the economy. And there is no electricity to boost growth in sectors. The failure of oversight on managing the economy has cost South African trillions of rands in losses and wasted opportunities and growth potential.

Who would have thought that darkness, just the absence of light for an extended period can have such a toxic effect.

As South Africans we don’t realise how this void has mutated us.

To illustrate this, I want to share the story of a plant in my study, which was gifted to me and sits in the centre of my coffee table. To my surprise, I noticed after some weeks of receiving it that the plant was bending sideways to capture the light to photosynthesis.

I then swivelled it in the opposite direction. And within a week it changed its leaning direction and returned back to the same position it was in before.

Now, if a plant can bend over sideways, struggling hard to attract the best possible sunlight energy, so too do South Africans adapt to the grotesque absence of energy and electricity.

We often now go for more than 12 hours a day without electricity. Load shedding has become integrated into our daily lives. But this has devastating consequences and can not become the new normal in South Africa. The socio-economic ramifications are mind boggling.

For those living in far remote areas and townships and informal settlements load shedding stages don't apply. They languish in a permanent state of blackouts and severe load curtailing plans. They can go for days or worse without electricity.

Poverty, unemployment, the human right to dignity, you name it, this is what a simple switching off of electricity in any level, or state of loadshedding, exacerbates.

South Africans are a highly civilized and yet tolerant natured nation. But these political and socio-economic abuse from those in power cannot continue at this rate unquestioned. Why is there no electricity?

The normal rhetorical excuses such as blaming apartheid and passing on excuses on the ageing power stations infrastructure is a lame excuse. Power stations if properly maintained, serviced and refurbished can run infinitum multiple life of plant years. It is totally unacceptable to endure this careless hardship.

The people of South Africa deserve far much more. South Africans are a hard working, colourful nation, peaceful, tolerant people, but not stupid.

The moral of the plant story is that energy is the foundation of all life.

Just like a plant that can lean sideways to gravitate towards the light, the same laws of nature apply in an economy. People need electricity and not endless politics.

As the government cracks the austerity whip, the one area it can’t afford to skimp on is money spent prudently to give South Africans back its electricity.

To kick start this economy South Africa needs to embark on Mega Energy Generation builds, huge energy projects in multiples of 10000 MW per cluster projects on energy elevation. Then the economy will grow: the state can receive a tax windfall, instead of a shortfall. Instead of stunted growth, we have a chance to bloom again.

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.