It would appear that President Jacob Zuma remains woefully ignorant of the desperate state of the country’s power supply. Zuma has appointed Lynne Brown as minister of public enterprises and Tina Joemat-Pettersson as minister of energy, the two positions of ministerial oversight which directly influence Eskom.

Neither minister has any track record to suggest that they could have a positive influence, while Joemat-Pettersson is best known for dodgy deals and wanting to move the fisheries office from Cape Town to Pretoria.

Meanwhile, Malusi Gigaba has walked away from ministerial responsibility for public enterprises with no progress in finding a replacement for Eskom’s former chief, Brian Dames, despite having had eight months to do so. Much in the same way as Ben Martins has moved on from energy, leaving in place the illegitimate contract to supply power to BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelters at a loss.

Eskom’s situation is becoming untenable, with zero generating reserve and close to 25 percent of its generating capacity unavailable through planned and unplanned outages, now so serious that Eskom has to plan for unplanned outages.

Plant breakdowns are variously, and falsely, blamed on old equipment and poor coal quality. In reality, the situation is akin to taking your car to the only service shop in town, paying good money to have it serviced, only for it to strand you on the freeway a few days later because the service shop owner has a vested interest in selling you a new car, despite yours having many years of remaining life. That is, if it were properly serviced. Of course, the only place you could buy the new car is the same service shop.

The power generation equivalent of the new car could be the building of Medupi and Kusile.

However, the analogy would only be valid if the Medupi and Kusile power stations were being built to replace some old generating capacity while their true function is supposedly to power up economic expansion, also to restore the conventional reserve capacity of 15 percent. And the “old” generating capacity is, at worst, only mature.

At the same time, Eskom now employs almost as many graduate engineers as employees graded as “technicians and artisans”, all now on an average remuneration of over R600 000 a year.

That suggests to the experienced plant engineer that the company has more chiefs than Indians and is desperately short of staff who regularly get their hands dirty, people who are vital to reliable plant operation.

The Chinese must be licking their lips at the prospect of being invited to take over Eskom and make it work as well as it did 25 years ago. But they would pay scant regard for Eskom’s employment practices, while the rest of the world’s mainstream power-generating industry must be gobsmacked at Eskom’s new-found inability to perform.

Eskom can only give thanks that the strike on the platinum belt came about as it has saved them the trouble of generating many more megawatts to run the mines and smelters which are now idle, but that strike has run the country into economic recession.

What an utterly terrible price to pay to compensate for incompetence and to keep the lights on, even if the cabinet is used to being kept in the dark.

Roger Toms

Hout Bay