Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

Eskom, our three-winged phoenix

By Bheki Gila Time of article published Apr 29, 2019

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CAPE TOWN – One way or another, the inevitability of the fate that awaits the bodily and constitutive form of Eskom is well nigh. In this regard we are assured not only by the utterances of the honchos in that joint, but by the advanced preparations for the nomination of the proposed chief reorganisation officer (CRO), in whatsoever manner this appointment will unfold.

The CRO when nominated must officiate on the last rites of passage of this power house, a most obsequious responsibility indeed. Beyond this measure, the Eskom of yore as conceived by Johan van der Bijl will be no more.

In its stead, a set of triplets will cough and choke their way into a world of brownouts and desperate rationing.

Notwithstanding the nobility of their consanguinity, they will be born unequal, and where it matters, each in their own limitations, will exhibit those traits of notoriety which their forbear had become known for in its last days.

So much of their inequality shall be attributable to the last will and testament as authored by the Grand Ol’ Wizard.

And just like in most cases of penning the statement of last intention, the testator or testatrix as the case may be is always influenced by factors both known and unknown, especially the unknown.

But the Grand Ol’ Wizard never dies, nor would our dear Eskom, his creation, even while lying stately in cold rigor mortis.

Have pity for Eskom’s lot, when for many years it dutifully gave us the cheapest electricity in the world, yet in later years provided a compendium of social media jokes on corruption, looting, state capture and debilitating incompetency.

Lying in awkward silence, half dead and half alive, Eskom waits patiently for its moment of resurrection. And like a mystical phoenix, shall rise from the ashes of debt to a new dawn of a trilogy of prudence, efficiency and accountability.

The time of knowing that the moment has arrived to bid the tired bones of our beloved Eskom farewell is when the CRO ministers over the ceremony.

The task, however, of writing the eulogy is an exclusive right reserved for all the republicans. We can lay 57 million flowers in requiem, or else do something both patriotic and humbling, that is each of us pen a eulogy for Eskom.

Yet, I caution you fellow citizens, be magnanimous in your two-line quips, for as you would know, no creature is more powerful and intriguing than the one that cheats death. It lies unmoved in silent glee with the private knowledge that it will resurrect exactly on the same hour of its interment. Tread ye lightly.

But first, what of these three creations that will mutate out of the body of the departed in a matrix-like sequel? They are, Generation, Transmission and Distribution, we are told. It is difficult to determine with prescience at this stage what this means.

For, as it is apparent, Eskom is a wholesome embodiment of politics and, more recently, of political speak. We gather from the revelations of the ongoing commissions of inquiry that political speak is a language of the dark occult.

A true understanding of its purport is only possible in the spirit world.

Therefore, we are left to decipher from publicly accessible facts. The major elements that fuel our electricity, and in turn define our endemic power crisis, primarily reside with Eskom’s generation capabilities and the associated comparative costs, and so is the majority of its debt and the asphyxiating guarantee obligations which Treasury has provided on its behalf.

Distribution on the other hand, is for the most part a function of the municipalities.

A cursory glimpse into the state of their financial health mirrors back to back that of Eskom. They are broke. They are incapacitated. And the daytime daemon of corruption always rings in to come collect.

In this scenario, the new Generation outfit must inherit the power generating facilities and, a priori, all the debt too. This is where much of the private sector participation shall be required, including the intensifying of the renewable energy programme.

The same goes for Distribution, arguably with the motif to rescue the municipalities from crippling historic debt, finally leaving them with the task they have been bequeathed by the Constitution, to govern.

Transmission, by some dint of fortuity, is a different story. Unburdened by debt, they stand to inherit the sweet spot, the continent's most advanced grid. Here we need all the vigilance we can muster. There is no reason to privatise this heritage of all South Africans, the Transmission grid.

While the generators must generate electricity, they must also find their own clients to off-take such power. Transmission, in all its purity, must never purchase electricity from anyone. That’s what put them in trouble in the first place.

Their task, just like that of a toll-gate, is to transmit the electricity so generated and destined for the target markets, for a toll.

The state capture project, which will always be a spectre in the evolution of our social contract with the state from one administration to another, is only possible where so much effort by the state is directed at rescuing the only part of Eskom that requires no rescuing.

As for the eulogy, it is said by Voltaire, a sagacious observer, that satire lies about literary men while they live and eulogy lies about them when they die. Let me take liberties and say

Here lies a mystic, dead in his life and alive in his death.

Bheki Gila is a barrister-at-law.


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