Editorial: We need a solid plan of action to save Eskom
Embattled Eskom plunged South Africans into hours of darkness as stage 4 load shedding was implemented this week.
This time, the outages were blamed on management and resulted in the suspension of two managers at the Tukuta and Kendal power stations in Mpumalanga. They stand accused of being “unresponsive”.
Eskom’s timing couldn’t be worse. South Africa was in a recession before the full force of the pandemic economic shock and lockdown exacted a hefty blow to the country’s unemployment rate. The utility has come up with a wide range of explanations for electricity rationing over the years.
Excuses have included the weather – both rain and sunshine – strikes, “unforeseen technical problems” at new power stations and, lest we forget, saboteurs – remember the bolt in system?
The latest explanation has seen two managers suspended because of apathy, no doubt with pay, in response to the country’s urgent power supply needs. At its own admission, Eskom agrees that the levels of failures were unacceptably high. While it is true that neglect and omitted maintenance has left the fleet susceptible to unpredictable breakdowns, Eskom’s problems are nothing new.
The government has known about the electricity supply shortfall since at least 1998, when a White Paper on energy warned that Eskom’s reserves would run out in 2007 if a significant investment into generation and infrastructure was not made.
As with other state-owned enterprises, Eskom is faced with a systemic failure. The persistence to continue a state-controlled model that is profoundly non-performing and has played a part in feeding the black hole of corruption will ultimately be ruinous to the Treasury – which can ill afford any more bailouts – and the country.
As we forge forward in rebuilding the economy, such excuses will no longer pass muster.
A concrete plan and swift action is necessary.
A plan that allows an intervention by the private sector so that provinces and municipalities can keep the lights on for a much-needed jump-start to the economy.