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The theories can also provide a self-assuring, but delusional, comfort whose stock in trade is the externalisation of problems at the expense of necessary introspection.
But as the aphorism goes: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
So, there are conspiracies and conspiracies. And the fact that one shouts out a conspiracy does not necessarily absolve them of responsibility.
Consider the all-round haemorrhaging electricity blackouts of last week and this week.
From December 5 up to Wednesday, public communication by Eskom on the cause of the outages was a classic moving target.
It illustrated the utility’s prowess at spinning yarns rather than its appreciation for accountability to a citizenry that deserves credible information and a world which is keenly watching how we negotiate the tricky bend of near-economic collapse.
According to Eskom, the cause of our agony went from – and take a deep breath – “high levels of unplanned breakdowns”, to “unplanned breakdowns, critically low water levels”, to “units not having returned to service as scheduled”, to “out-of-service generating units”, to “wet coal … as a result of the incessant rains” to, “flooding at some power stations”, to “shortage of capacity”, and so on and so on.
If it was not one thing, it was another; and it would have been funny if it was not so menacingly tragic.
The linguistic obfuscation did not help matters, either. What on earth are “unplanned breakdowns” to mere mortals whose singular expectation is electricity and to be told in plain language why such a legitimate expectation is not being met?
So, despite the anger that blackouts evoke, Eskom neither appeared, nor sounded, believable.
The utility first invoked the “wet coal” narrative in 2014 and we are not experiencing heavy rains for the first time, either.
So, why was wet coal not anticipated in view of the 2014 experience or the devastating floods in 2000? Demand for electricity has substantially reduced following the country’s economic contraction.
Eskom does not seriously want to convince the nation and the world that it is unable to meet our levels of reduced demand, does it?
On Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that “someone” at Eskom had “disconnected one of the instruments that finally led to one of the boilers tripping, and [the country] losing as much as 2 000MW”, which he described as an act of deliberate “sabotage”.
Ramaphosa’s statement has already attracted ridicule from quarters that would like to have us believe that our country and the world is a tranquil village of well-intentioned denizens who all tend harmoniously in one direction.
All of this comes against the backdrop of a startling revelation by the State Security Agency (SSA) acting deputy director-general for counterintelligence, Sipho Blose, who told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts in October: “There are 121 senior management officials at Eskom who were meant to be vetted, but only 21 complied.”
Blose added the obvious and said: “It’s important that we vet these officials for Eskom to turn things around.”
Eskom is yet to refute the SSA’s statement made before the people’s tribunes in our national legislature. Those of us who are beginning to be persuaded about possible foul play behind the recurrent blackouts cannot understand why the administrative and political leadership at the helm of Eskom would permit such a situation; that managers at this critical national institution do as they please, including flagrantly flouting the country’s national security laws meant to protect the nation as a whole.
If public accountability and integrity mean anything to Eskom, it owes the nation an explanation about how, why and in what way all the factors attributed to the power outages came to elude it, its position about the SSA statement to parliament and what it is going to do about the saboteur of whose nefarious activities none other than the head of state has informed the nation and the world.
And why would anyone, a South African national, go out of their way to sabotage Eskom?
This is yet another problem about a conspiracy theory – people can only suspect.
There are two popular explanations on offer: The first is that there are sections of society who are intent on demonstrating what is essentially an ideological viewpoint that state ownership does not work.
According to this school of thought, adherents to this ideological perspective seek to create as much crisis as possible throughout the state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector, the better to provide the nation with concrete evidence of the futility of state ownership.
Specifically with regard to Eskom, the theory holds that the intention for sabotage is to pave the way for the smooth entry of independent power producers (IPPs), whose entry into the market would require a weakened Eskom which compromises enough of its generation and transmission capacity for IPPs to be profitable.
The second is that the sabotage of the SOE sector is intended to achieve the collapse of the government to communicate a long-held self-fulfilling prophecy that the ruling party was bound to fail.
The counter-argument to these explanations is that SOEs have failed on account of mismanagement and corruption under the tutelage of the same ruling party.
The argument is not without merit and there are enough examples throughout the world to illustrate the injurious effects of corruption on SOEs and how it facilitates a free reign for national asset stripping.
In a 2016 paper on the political economy of Nigerian power sector reform, the African Development Bank’s Eric Ogunleye wrote: “Corruption is one of the key reasons for the collapse of the Nigerian electricity sector and was, therefore, the main rationale adduced for its reform.”
To the extent that we are, as citizens, all complicit in one way or the other in the state of SOEs, we cannot exonerate ourselves from responsibility.
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