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Eskom split misses the mark as load shedding in SA continues unabated

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former StatisticianGeneral and former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former StatisticianGeneral and former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Oct 31, 2021


JOHN Tukey advises that, “Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise”.

The relevance of this is that over a year ago, the government broke up Eskom into three components and created for each of these a board.

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What question was the government providing an answer for? On Wednesday, load shedding reached unprecedented proportions in an economy that operates far below what should cause pressure on Eskom’s capacity of electricity supply.

This prompted the ANC to make a public statement of displeasure that this happens in the week when matrics sit for exams. The party is livid and calls for transparency.

But lest we forget, in December 2019, an NEC member of the ruling party, Mondli Gungubele, said the blame for the sorry state of Eskom lay squarely at the door of the governing party.

In my column of February 6 last year, under the title “Self-interest is what is driving Eskom split-up”, I made the point that the spirited way in which the government decided to split Eskom into three and created three boards was nothing but a rent seeking adventure by accounts.

It had nothing to do with addressing Eskom. I argued that the law of cybernetics teaches us that complexity can only be resolved by complexity.

The genetic code of Eskom is etched in it as an engineering-cum-economic complexity that bean-counting accountants and statisticians, and ignorant politicians, are less equipped to understand. Splitting it, I argued, will destroy this genetic code.

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However, the decision was made and it was a time to tick-up that the decision was now taken.

The question we have to ask is what did that up-tick deliver in solving Eskom’s problems? In my book absolutely nothing, except burdening Eskom with three boards. By his own admission. Gungubele pointed to the fact that the problem came from politics. The ANC is red-faced and asks for an honest answer. Gungubele gave the answer in December 2019 already.

Ivor Chipkin and Jelena Vidojevic three weeks ago, on October 4, in a paper titled “Time and temporality in organisations: The case of Eskom” come with well researched evidence of analysis that looks at organisations as temporal phenomena composed of multiple temporalities. In their findings about Eskom, they confirm Gungubele’s point. The evidence they deduced from their research is that Eskom’s “operational time was displaced by a political temporality that ultimately destabilised the temporal regime of the organisation as a whole.”

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So, what honest answers is the ANC seeking? The correct question that should have been asked is what was it that Eskom needed? For this, Gungubele had an answer – keep political temporality out of Eskom. Yet the answer the government gave was to split it into three with three boards.

Now we have three boards from whom there are no results to date – except load shedding that happens on the eve of an election.

Perhaps this is what worries the ANC the most. Who really cares about children writing exams?

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There it is: it was just a ploy, Eskom has already said elections will be electrified as an answer to concerns about children writing exams. That answer has now been accepted and the noise about children writing has fallen where it belongs – in the dustbin of history.

Amilcar Cabral advises in Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories: “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”

Eskom is a complex engineering-cum-economy system. Dr Bijl designed it that way a century ago. Modesty and respecting science compel us to ask the right questions; not to publish tenders for the right answers.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former StatisticianGeneral and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @ and @Palilj01.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.


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