Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

OPINION: Cry, our beloved country? We live in hope of a better year

By Dr Pali Lehohla Time of article published Dec 18, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - The year 2019 is ending. In South Africa each year has not been short of drama since 2015 when former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was summarily dismissed by former president Jacob Zuma.

This precipitated a series of events, which saw the initiation of an inquiry into state capture driven by former public protector Thuli Madonsela. This opened up the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture under the chair of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. This is revealing a chain of intrigue that extends well beyond the Gupta family who are yet to appear at this commission.

At the end of 2017, civil society and political parties vowed to see the back of Zuma. He would resign a few days after what would have been his last but one State of the Nation Address.

Of course 2017 had ended with an elective conference of the ruling party which ushered in President Cyril Ramaphosa into what has mutated into a thicket, through which he has to lead us. Thus far he has been thrust into delivering three State of the Nation Addresses (Sonas) in less than two years. With each Sona he has looked into a more perilous future.

As a leader of the nation, we need him to deliver a message of hope - a very hard deliverable. Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who took the reins in the wake of Glasnost and Perestroika trailblazer, Mikhail Gorbachev, when asked how he saw the future upon his inauguration, his answer was short and straight to the point: “This year is definitely better than next year.”

I would hazard that the Presidency of Ramaphosa is faced with worsening futures. Symptoms of these abound. SA Airways is literally bankrupt and has been placed under rescue. Eskom is equally bankrupt and for the first time we got introduced to Stage 6 load shedding and sabotage as a result.

With this demise, those fingered as having abetted state capture at Eskom came out into the open to engage on Eskom issues, including Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko.

What is important about their public rendition is reference to facts on their performance during their tenure at the power utility.

And in fact, facts come strongly in their favour on how they dealt with the crisis.

Emboldened Molefe has even offered to return. Koko on the other hand has said he is done with Eskom; he is very busy elsewhere. Come the time for orange overalls, it won’t be him in them.

What are the facts? Of course, Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke, ventilates facts from fiction. In another column I pointed to the dangers of weakening Statistics SA and pondered whether there was a pernicious and insidious motive to do so.

For if there is, the claims by Molefe, Koko, the government and much accompanying chorus will never have a fair arbiter.

This is given that even Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu is not only soon reaching the end of his well-delivered term, but he does so revealing the most hideous of ill governance in our state affairs.

The facts on electricity delivered from October 2014 to October this year reveal the following: As of the beginning of this year, Eskom was heading south at an accelerated pace. The much-talked about sabotage, if ever it happened, was of no consequence given the momentum.

Maluleke’s P4141 statistical release of December 5 on electricity generated and distributed sums it up. The year-on-year figures capturing the six months of May to October compared with the corresponding period last year show contraction in generation and supply of electricity, except for June.

In this month, the government took a deliberate decision to buy expensive diesel to avoid disruption to constitutional democracy for an election. Even seasonal adjustments for month-on-month and three months on do not eliminate the net negative of this period.

Maluleke’s graphs reveal that in the period from 2016 to last year, South Africa enjoyed relative stability of electricity generated and distributed. The 2015 horrors are mirrored perfectly with deepening crisis this year and remain unabated knowing our recent history of this month.

Turning to the promise of no load shedding between now and January, this is surely no-brainer. Factories will have closed and they account for up to 80percent of electricity consumption. Households consume 20percent. It would take a completely limbless and spineless Eskom to load shed in this period.

So please save us the debilitating spin. However, what value destruction Molefe and Koko might have or not caused in the long run can only be known in the fullness of time. For that we defer to Justice Zondo.

Thus far, Maluleke’s backward looking figures give a different verdict to what has become common place. With all these moving parts and South Africa’s economy and social edifice in deep trouble, the Yeltsin metaphor of “this year is certainly better than next year” resonates.

What then should we expect of Ramaphosa’s fourth Sona? Perhaps hope. Because we need it but only hope etched in reality. One born out of and by Ramaphosa’s apt phraseology of catharsis - a vigorous evacuation of the bowels. Even if that leaves us dehydrated, it’s what we need now.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics SA. Meet him at and on Twitter @Palilj01


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