A Candlelight Revolution

Andrew Donaldson writes on the ANC's desperate actions as SA loses patience with loadshedding and the ruling party


NOT to be too dramatic here, but has the hour of the Candlelight Revolution come at last, like that fabled rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem? Thus an inquiry prompted by a power failure which cut short a recent address by the ANC secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, at the University of Johannesburg. 

short clip of the incident, lifted from a TV news broadcast, has now gone viral on social media, attracting some chuckles along the way. In the video, the failed transport minister is seen about to detail the ruling party’s plans to mobilise against the energy crisis and Eskom’s electricity price hikes. 

This, as we’ve previously noted, is bizarre enough in itself: the ANC wishing to protest its own miserable track record. In a somewhat credulous suggestion that such introspection was commonplace in the ruling party, Mbalula put it thus: “We engage robustly in ideas. It was sometimes not a nice debate because [opposition parties] took to the street—” 

Sadly, it’s at this point that the lights go out, and we hear nothing more from Bra Fiks. After a moment’s silence, in which we imagine the little guy peering sans gorm into the darkness, a bemused SABC news anchor informs viewers, “That’s load shedding there. Quite ironic, given that it is a talk on the energy crisis.” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Further irony, of a sort: there has in recent days been quite a lot of talk from the ANC about talking about the energy crisis. Much guff, you could say, about much guff. 

Consider, for example, the recent lekgotlas. These are supposedly the high policy synods, gatherings of the party elders where pressing matters are tackled and motions are tabled and documents circulated around the table in a rational and dignified manner.

In effect, though, they are occasions of great panic and confusion where no-one appears to have a clue about anything. And so it was that the party’s NEC met for two days on Monday. Then, on Wednesday, the cabinet was due to gather for further fustering. This latter lekgotlawe are told, will “lay the groundwork” for Cyril Ramaphosa’s forthcoming state of the nation address. 

Judging by his recent comments, we kind of know what to expect in this SONA: the crisis is not entirely his government’s fault, but rather an overweening bureaucracy is to blame; too much red tape has stymied maintenance at Eskom and prevented the possible supply of power from other sources. 

As Squirrel reminded provincial party leaders in KwaZulu-Natal last week, these problems were perhaps maybe on the off chance fairly likely quite possibly accidentally of their own making. Sort of. 

True, he didn’t put it quite like that, but he did speak in a deliberately slow manner so that his audience could fully understand what he was saying:

“When we are now supposed to do things, there is this regulation, law and processes. When Eskom has to buy a boiler, they have to go to the Treasury and get permission, it is a long process… We want to improve and speed up the licensing [of independent power producers]. We have established so many regulations, that ties us up and delays us and adds to the bureaucracy that we have to go through.”

And so, the current thinking (if I may): the declaration of a national state of disaster and a repositioning of the national budget — ka-ching! — to bankroll such a development could feasibly end load shedding by the end of the year. 

A mere eleven months from now! Go ahead and laugh. We did, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”). But in a bitter and unpleasant way. 

The thing is though: is this not a DA demand the ANC is adopting? Opposition leader John Steenhuisen has been calling for Eskom to be declared a national disaster for a while now. This is not all the DA wants. Its chief demand in this regard is that government gets the hell out of the electricity business completely. Hambavoetsekfokof. no tenders, just go, etc.

This, of course, will not happen anytime soon. Government has so much invested in Eskom and its coal-powered stations. (See fossil fool Gwede Mantashe for further details.) Still the opposition bangs on. Early last month, Western Cape premier Alan Winde wrote to Squirrel, stressing the need for an urgent response to the crisis. 

“Not only is load shedding ravaging the economy,” Winde said, “there is also the risk of food insecurity due to the devastation being wrought on the agricultural sector. This has the potential to develop into a humanitarian crisis. Our citizens have every right to be angry at this situation.”

Squirrel, unsurprisingly, didn’t even acknowledge Winde’s letter. So how is it that the ANC should now be seen to be parroting the opposition? 

The short answer is pressure from white monopoly capital. 

Or rather, the International Monetary Fund and the like. These foreign bastards. And the SA Reserve Bank as well. On Tuesday, just as Squirrel and his cabinet were expropriating the DA’s response to the energy crisis, the IMF downgraded their forecasts for South Africa. Thanks to load shedding, they said, the country’s economy was projected to grow by just 1.2 per cent this year. This is less than half of last year’s growth. 

The forecast from SARB was even more miserable: a measly 0.3 per cent growth, which was sharply down from previous predictions. Meanwhile, PriceWaterhouseCooper, the big smug of international accountancy, has helpfully pointed out that the country’s economy could have grown by at least seven per cent last year had there been no load shedding. Seven per cent! That’s at least two points above the major league wet dream threshold. Foreign investors don’t need to hear this sort of thing. At least not until the cheque has been been delivered.

All of this hurts. Especially as it is the sort of thing that remains uppermost in the minds of potential foreign investors when they see the ANC coming. So Squirrel obviously has to say something, even if it is meaningless babble.

The big question now is whether the country is prepared for what may next be on the cards. 

Ignore, if you can, all this negativism about ten hours of load shedding a day and the speculation that said “blackouts” are expected to continue for at least two more years. Focus, instead, on this grim possibility: as the likelihood of widespread protest action over the energy crisis increases, so too does the likelihood that the Doek of Death, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Emergency Measures Simpering Figurehead of the Radical Economic Transformation Movement Virodene “The Clarice” Dlamini Proxy Zuma, will once again be put on Nanny Patrol. Generators will be confiscated and woe betide anyone hoarding candles.

It was bad enough during the Covid lockdown. Then, at least, we could see the enemy. The stakes are much higher now, what with the lights out, and not for nothing are sober publications like Canada’s Globe and Mail informing readers that “commentators have voiced concerns that a national state of disaster would allow Mr Ramaphosa’s government to take steps that threaten basic rights and freedoms”. 

Should the people take to the streets, those boxes of matches may just come in handy after all.

Animal farms

It was an utterly miserable sight: a group of rhino huddled together for warmth on a bitterly cold mid-winter’s afternoon in a safari park in darkest Bedfordshire. It was just as bad at the nearby chimp enclosure, as a troop of these unfortunates crowded under a heater in a corner of the cage, their backs to the gawking onlookers.

Safari parks, like zoos, are colonial institutions that have sought to rebrand themselves in recent years. Animals are still caged for entertainment, but the narrative now is not so much one of the imperialists’ dominance over nature but rather of conservation and education. That said, it doesn’t take much in the way of rocket science to understand that these creatures don’t give a stuff about you may or may not learn about them and would be far happier elsewhere. 

The idea of a herd of impala, let’s say, grazing away on large country estates here is doubly ludicrous when considering England’s lamentable failure to conserve its own fauna. Those green pastures are well and truly pasteurised, and what remains of its indigenous wildlife is now mostly encountered as roadkill. Dead badgers are a common sight. So too are foxes — although I’ve seen a few live ones at night at truck stops, scavenging around dirt bins. 

Scotland’s rewilding, however, continues apace. Sea eagles, the UK’s largest bird of prey, have been successfully reintroduced to the western islands, and a colony of beavers have recently been let loose in Loch Lomond some 400 years after they were wiped out in the area by hunters. 

Now the bad news. Britain’s departure from the EU has severely disrupted the breeding programmes at scores of UK zoos. Time was, some 1 400 animals, all endangered, would be shipped to the continent for a bit of how’s your father in zoos there. Thanks to red tape, the number fell to a little over 200 last year. As a headline in The Times put it, “Horny rhinos can’t breed because Brexit, zoos warn.” 

A massive backlog is now building. London Zoo, for example, waited 18 months before it could get a giraffe off to have some fun in the Czech Republic. This is preposterous. Giraffes aren’t endangered. Besides which, 18 months? Surely the mood would have passed by then and said giraffe would be quite happy to be just left in peace, nibbling away at some leaves?