News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
3 minute read
13 Feb 2019
9:35 am

Conspiracy theories over Eskom are a load of shed

Martin Williams

We should not 'attribute to conspiracy that which is explained by incompetence', as the saying goes. There’s no need to manufacture a crisis.

Eskom problems. Picture: Twitter

Let’s join conspiratorial dots about load shedding.

Shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Eskom would be unbundled, lights went out.

Coincidence? Perhaps. It could also be a warning from unions, who oppose the job losses that will be inevitable if Eskom is split.

Sure, the unions could merely hold media briefings, issue statements and stage protests, etc. Going on strike could be illegal and problematic, alienating public sympathy.

A more effective route would be unannounced sabotage. Unions could arrange for the national grid to be short of 4 000 megawatts. How do six additional generating units “unexpectedly” go offline, all at the same time? Suspicious, isn’t it?

Previous excuses included coal shortages, wet coal, unscheduled maintenance, etc. But six units down “unexpectedly”?

Who else would have a vested interest in load shedding? Remember the National Energy Regulator of SA is yet to decide on Eskom’s bid for a 15% tariff increase. Load shedding is a perfect way for Eskom to highlight its plight.

The May 8 elections are also significant. Ramaphosa’s foes within the ANC could benefit from Eskom’s woes. If the ANC fares badly, the anti-Ramaphosa faction would use that as an excuse to recall him from the presidency. So, switch the lights off to upset voters.

There are flaws in this conspiracy theory.

Surely unions and management wouldn’t collude on load shedding, they are at loggerheads. And would an anti-Ramaphosa ANC faction really have enough influence within Eskom to engineer load shedding artificially? Could any of this happen undetected by the energy experts alert to developments at Eskom?

Probably not. From the other side, unions detect a plot by Ramaphiles to justify privatisation.

It’s all a load of shed. We should not “attribute to conspiracy that which is explained by incompetence”, as the saying goes.

There’s no need to manufacture a crisis. The national grid is as unstable as in 2008. Eskom is in a bad way, after more than a decade of Zupta plunder. It employs too many people, while not enough consumers pay for electricity. Simple.

By the end of last year, Eskom had 48 628 employees, up from 31 972 in 2003, without a corresponding increase in output. Municipalities owe Eskom R15 billion, despite several debt write-offs.

And there is no sign that a culture of payment for electricity is sufficiently entrenched. No wonder Moody’s says Eskom remains a significant risk for South Africa’s fiscus.

Ramaphosa’s role is curious. This week he was “shocked” by stage four load shedding. Yet in 2014 he was placed in charge of an inter-ministerial committee on state-owned enterprises, of which Eskom was the most prominent. How could he still know so little about Eskom?

This is the same person who was supposedly unaware that state capture was happening while he was deputy president.

During last week’s State of the Nation Address he hailed the “fourth industrial revolution”, unaware that candlelight beckoned.

Ramaphosa is also unaware – and will be shocked to learn – that he has inverted the proverb, “The darkest hour is just before the new dawn”.

Martin Williams, DA councillor.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.