Providing energy to SA is what stopping the Russian-Ukraine war is to the world

Dr Pali Lehohla, former Statistician-General of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa, is a professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg.

Dr Pali Lehohla, former Statistician-General of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa, is a professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg.

Published Apr 24, 2022


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda 2030 is likely to be scuppered by the war in Ukraine. So calamitous is the inevitable outcome of this raging war that has disrupted the baby steps to achieve the SDG goals, as well as Agenda 2063, the Africa We Want.

Stopping the Russian-Ukraine war – as the escalation of hostilities on both sides continues – and returning to a multilateral system, which over seven decades to a large extent has averted the spectre of a third world war is a priority.

While this will impact negatively on South Africa, we as a country face several own goals. Key amongst these is the energy deficit, which is deepening. Rome is burning.

Whatever implications are from alleged actions taken by former Eskom CEO, Matshela Koko, revealed at the Zondo Commission into State Capture, I have to make the following observation. This is especially in the context of the evidence of collapsing hope for South Africa's economic development. This is important against the multiple narratives lampooned on the 'evil' koko (a mysterious child-eating animal) that has kept Eskom in the dark.

In this regard I have tried to deal with the narrative on Eskom’s fleet maintenance from the lens of quarterly gross domestic production reports that go back 20 years to see whether Koko did or did not exercise planned maintenance.

Whenever, the planned maintenance kicked in the quarter over the 240 quarters, overall output declined. So, the evidence on decline in output as a consequence of routine planned maintenance suggests that indeed there was fleet maintenance under Koko.

Of course, there was also decline in output due to load shedding. The question to be answered in this lousy sideshow to our existential challenge, is whether the books could have been cooked to reflect load shedding under the guise of planned maintenance.

But the thrust of the adjudication in the Koko court case by Judge Bernard Ngoepe is that there was no fudging of facts, which was the central thrust of Koko’s grievance. That leaves me with the conclusion that planned maintenance continued while load shedding was managed. The diesel consumption was never concealed in the numbers given by Koko either.

But the fact is it was a minor fraction of what diesel is consumed today under load shedding. Koko used R260 million in a full period of the 2016 load shedding episode. Today it now costs unfathomable billions of rands.

Energy analysts Chris Yelland and Ted Blom, alongside Koko, have repeatedly cast a crystal clear view and given unassailable evidence regarding the dire straits South Africa is in on matters of energy.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa at the SA Investment Conference, said, “No economy can operate without a reliable supply of electricity.” He said ongoing reforms to the energy sector included changes to Eskom, the country’s energy supplier, and additional generation capacity mainly through wind and solar sources of energy.

However, despite several plans to get Eskom healthy and billions spent, the country is faced with load shedding yet again.

South Africa has repeatedly shown that it is unrealistic when it comes to the issue of providing a steady supply of electricity to the country to advance its development.

We need to dig deep, as deep as we did in 1994 under Madiba Magic to overcome our obstacles.

If I were the President for ten minutes, which I am not and have no aspirations of becoming even in my wildest of my boyish dreams, I would convene Yellend, Koko and Blom to my Cabinet and be all ears on what these experts have to say.

After which I would ask my Cabinet and South Africa the question: “Now that you asked me to convene an investment conference and I did, but hardly the dust on the conference was dusted I as the President I am faced with this loadshedding, what should we do based on the expert opinion?.

I would then convene our engineers and economists, perhaps with luck I will get a Van der Bijl or Koko amongst the engineers and I would get a Keynes amongst the economists.

(Hendrik van der Bijl was the driving force behind the creation of Eskom)

I would then ask them to lead a team of engineers and economists and come with an answer within three weeks to start that thorny, catharsis filled journey of searching for our true cause, prospects of failure, however, not withstanding but the true foundations will have been secured.

In this regard the assignment would be to revisit the vision of Van der Bijl, which was developed exactly a century ago.

Like Smuts summoned Van der Bijl, to establish an energy sector that would propel the industrialisation and development of South Africa, obnoxious apartheid outcomes notwithstanding, I would in addition to the three "musketeers" – who have not taken us down an energy alley of smoke and mirrors, but chose individually to commit to inform us on a sustained basis what the energy precipice is and how to resolve it – invite South African-born Elon Musk, an African, for help.

The task at hand requires Thabo Mbeki's vision of I am an African. This step is to South Africa what stopping the Russia-Ukraine war is to the world.

Dr Pali Lehohla is a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg and he is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @Palilj01 and at www.pie.or


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