It is concerning Eskom’s not even close to coalface
Two years ago, this weekend, Cyril Ramaphosa narrowly squeaked past the winning post by a margin of 179 votes from the 4709 delegates. It was, he said to the rapture of the commentariat, a New Dawn.
There’s been a lot of dark in the past 24 months, metaphorically. This week it became slightly more literal; Eskom announced an unprecedented Stage 6 “load shedding”, and the incessant rain in Gauteng precipitated floods in true South African-style that washed the shacks of the desperate and the cars of the privileged away, with an egalitarianism that only Mother Nature can pull off.
The president though wasn’t here - at least not at first.
He had left for Egypt on a state visit or, as one wag noted, to get his cellphone charged. The commentariat wanted him to address the nation, though how he would have managed this via TV with the country now on Stage 6 would have been moot.
On a day when Zozibini Tunzi won the vote as Miss Universe and the Blitzboks arrived home after a phenomenal start to this year’s edition of the Rugby World Sevens in Dubai, it was left to Eskom to ruin the party, except it didn’t really - in fact, it probably did as much for social cohesion as the other two put together.
The hot flush of being proudly South African coalesced into a seething cauldron of resentment at Eskom’s incompetence, exacerbated by the obvious spin of “wet coal”, which other far wetter countries don’t suffer from.
The tapestry promised by the New Dawn has been unravelling fast in recent months.
The president, prior to his state visit, had pinned a tweet about how he had just visited Medupi for the first time and how proud he had been of what would be the fourth biggest coal-power plant in the world.
It was in fact Medupi that precipitated the Stage 6 crisis, notwithstanding the flooding in the coal mines and the generic mismanagement of the energy crisis to date.
The president’s tweet also omitted that Medupi is horribly over schedule and over budget and is being commissioned at a time when most of the world is looking to anything but fossil fuel.
The greatest omission was that as much as state capture has become the new apartheid in terms of a catch all absolution for today’s responsibilities, Ramaphosa was appointed to oversee Eskom’s turnaround by Jacob Zuma no less - in 2014.
Yet he only managed to get to Medupi a fortnight ago. And - true to form when he finally did address the nation on Wednesday - he confessed he was surprised and shocked.
Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined her famous five stages of grief in 1969, inspired by dealing with terminally ill patients. Later she added another two stages. The last remained accepting the inevitable.
This week, Eskom moved us from four stages to six stages of load shedding. By next week we could well have eight. It’s uncharted territory, but the end result will be much the same as Kübler-Ross envisaged, helping us deal with the death of a loved one - or an ideal.
* Kevin Ritchie is a journalist and a former newspaper editor.