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

The Koko that keeps power utility Eskom in the dark

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Nov 21, 2021

Share this article:

THE SESOTHO culture has a mystique animal that is invoked to put the fear of God in children.

Called “koko”, it is said to come in at night and eat children.

It is this ghost or fearful mystique animal that is omnipresent with its absence in our houses, offices, factories, schools, places of prayer, entertainment areas, health facilities, trains and, later, motor vehicles.

Eskom, the koko of our times, has a very adversarial relationship with its former boss Matshela Koko, the engineer.

The drama would have been an interesting and entertaining encounter of science and leadership training, only if at the centre of it were not a tragic and existential social, political and economic conundrum of Koko the engineer and Eskom the koko of our times.

Koko, the engineer, has become a real koko to Eskom. He has put the terror of science in Eskom management as it tries spin after spin on why things are not working.

Eskom recently lampooned Koko for not maintaining the fleet during his tenure.

While Koko awaits a verdict from the Zondo Commission, on matters of electricity generation he has enlightened the public from an obfuscating Eskom management.

On this score, facts speak for themselves. The facts are that availability of electricity was at a high coefficient of 81 percent, which is six percentage points higher than the required 75 percent, and fleet maintenance was at about 10 percent. This was achieved within a cost structure that was economically sustainable. These are facts that are not contestable.

As the former statistician-general, I always looked at figures of electricity generation with keen interest, because of their disruption to the time series of production volumes.

There are actually two disruptors if one were to focus on quarterly output of the country. One is religion and the other is electricity generation.

The Christian religion disrupts volumes of production between the first and second quarter.

Depending on whether Easter is in March or April of the specific year, the time series of all economic activities is disrupted and the statistician-general applies seasonal adjustments to normalise the time series.

Another disrupter is planned maintenance of electricity generation plants by Eskom.

This information comes in the form of the electricity generation series and the volumes of economic activity series. Often, when the line managers presented results to me and the fluctuations in the numbers presented themselves, we would have an entertaining debate on whether the koko imposed itself on the numbers or religion did.

For Eskom to blame Koko for not maintaining the fleet over a decade during his tenure is disengenuous and mendacious.

What is more interesting is how the new minister of finance weighed in on the koko cocktail, with his own hidden koko.

While he correctly blames Eskom management for mismanagement despite the more than favourable conditions they have been allowed to operate under, his hidden koko is all about selling Eskom plants because, he argues, that they are too expensive to run.

This approach by the minister has an accounting logic and not an economic one.

Godongwana’s approach to the economic-engineering behemoth removes Eskom from society, economics and politics of South Africa and outsources it to some private sector koko that will haunt and drive our political economy into the deepest crisis South Africa is yet to witness from a cost of electricity point of view.

Godongwana’s koko is the Enron of South Africa. In this game of unleashing a koko to the nation, the interests driving these multiples of koko are at odds but, in the end, the country is poised for a failed state if the koko warriors are not stopped in their tracks.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @ www.pie.org.za and @Palilj01.

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

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE

Share this article: