Ramaphosa has no coherent plan but to dig in with Eskom and hope for a miracle
Ramaphosa’s lack of urgency in reshuffling may indicate he will continue his strategy of playing for time.
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
The tragicomedy that is Eskom, unfolding on an intermittently lit stage before an increasingly restless audience, is daily becoming more surreal.
South Africans have watched slack-jawed the escalation of events the past few weeks, following the resignation and alleged poisoning of Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. De Ruyter’s valiant, but doomed, efforts to rescue Eskom laid bare how criminality involving the ANC elite has hollowed out every state institution.
The rot is so deep, the stakes so high, that we should accept the best we can hope for in the immediate future is more competent crooks operating our state-owned entities – parasites that don’t kill the host.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s willingness to throw De Ruyter to the wolves was yet another reminder that the president puts party interests above national priorities. There was no rebuke of Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe when he accused De Ruyter of “treason” over load shedding.
Instead, he has stated that, per a conference resolution, Mantashe’s department will soon have charge of Eskom. Ramaphosa’s diehard fans trust this is a canny, not craven, manoeuvre. That in his imminent Cabinet reshuffle, he will axe the useless and compromised Mantashe.
In a belligerent interview this week with News24’s Kyle Cowan, Mantashe doubled down on his cries of treason. “If you allow stage 6 load shedding to continue, you are pitting society against the state. Therefore, you [are] agitating for the overthrow of the state.”
Mantashe went further, ascribing criticism of the ANC to racism, of “always looking for Bantu to blame”.
There was also a veiled warning to Ramaphosa: “Eskom has not been given to me by the president. But I know the feeling of delegates of the ANC … So that puts the president in a very awkward situation because he must choose between the liberals and the delegates of the ANC.”
Ramaphosa’s lack of urgency in reshuffling may indicate he will continue his strategy of playing for time. The goal is to keep the party unified – which means tolerating the corruption of the robber barons who support him – while the clock ticks down to next year’s election.
In such a scenario, the only imperative is to throw whatever money is necessary to keep Eskom limping along until then.
Only once the ANC has secured, by hook or by crook, its 2024 electoral majority, will it worry about paying the substantial costs, financial and in terms of infrastructure, that’s been run into the ground. The wild card is whether the public can be placated for much longer.
There has been a palpable groundswell of fury over Eskom which this week exploded into action following the regulator’s decision to grant Eskom an almost 19% price increase for 2023, with another almost 13% to follow in April next year.
One response has been threatened legal actions against the regulator and Eskom. Uniquely South African, there also have been union calls, endorsed by a variety of radical community movements, for “rolling mass action” that will culminate in a “#NationalShutDown”.
As the ANC tries desperately to postpone Eskom’s total implosion until after the general election, it’s drawing straight from the playbook of the old National Party. It’s all the fault of foreign foes and local agitators.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor last week said load shedding was “an oppositional attack on SA.com”, while Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said the escalating crises at Eskom were “inexplicable”.
That Pandor and Godongwana are chanting the Mantashe mantra of deflection, is worrying. It’s another sign that Ramaphosa’s administration has no coherent plan but to dig in and hope for a miracle before the curtain finally falls.
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