Action at last on Eskom

Andrew Donaldson says that 15 years after we started running out of power the ANC has decided ... to talk about fixing the problem


STAND back, but any moment now, perhaps even this very week maybe, President Cyril Ramaphosa, according to Business Day, will in all likelihood “announce an energy emergency”. The newspaper “understands”—as newspapers most certainly do—that this announcement is possibly part of what Squirrel has labelled a “comprehensive set of actions” that will slash “energy red tape”.

Hola! There’s nothing quite like grabbing the bull by the horns and just tackling a crisis most pronto right there and then, is there? Meet that sucker head-on, as it were, even if it’s an emergency that the country has lived with since, uh, maybe 2008? 

That, hard to believe, was when “load-shedding” first entered the South African lexicon. It was practically a dribble then. A minor inconvenience. It didn’t even affect the 2010 World Cup. What luck, hey? 

Now, 15 years later, the country buckles under one of the worst outages since the country first became aware that Eskom’s power plants were falling apart. 

With power cuts lasting as long as six hours, it is obviously time to do something. Very, very obviously. Respond to the emergency. Nip it in the bud. Before something not good happens. 

But nothing too rash or foolish, if you please. Squirrel’s not rushing into this one half-cocked. Heaven forfend that the people be startled by any sudden movement. 

That is why the nuts and bolts of this emergency action plan have, according to an unnamed official in the presidency, been tinkered and fiddled with in high-level meetings in the past two weeks. “Government’s response,” the source said, “must be equal or be similar to that given to the Covid-19 pandemic and [Squirrel] wants those lessons to be referenced in this regard and all options explored and put on the table.”

God alone knows what such claptrap means in practical terms. But we can sense the urgency. It’s throbbing, vibrating, oscillating wildly.

Cynics and naysayers, meanwhile, put aside all thought that the cow baron has been stirred from a slothful stupor into something resembling motion by cruel suggestions that his 2019 campaign promises to revive an economy fisted by Jacob Zuma and the Gupta grifters have come to nothing. To do so is to fall into that tiresome faction fight narrative.  

Focus rather on the “immediate measures” that the ruminative Squirrel is considering with great care and attention to detail. Writing in his weekly newsletter on Monday, the president hinted that various bureaucratic processes, stuff that has been around for, um, a while now, are making it difficult for “new generation capacity”.

This may or may not be some form of admission that cadre deployment at Eskom has been a bunch of arse. Not to mention a raft of other daft policy decisions affecting the energy sector. 

But moving on. The man writes, somewhat soberly: “While these actions are significant and will bear fruit over the coming months, they are clearly not enough to address the crisis that we face. What the past two weeks have demonstrated is that we need to do more and do so with the utmost urgency.”

Last week, the National Planning Commission, a group of deep thinkers chaired by minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele, called for an end to load-shedding in two years. When the country goes to the polls.

Until then, rest assured, they know there’s a problem—and they’re even talking about it.

Fit to burst

Regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) are convinced that Bheki Cele’s hats are too small for him. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

This wasn’t always the case, they say, as they once fitted the police minister perfectly. The perception is understandable. Cele—or “Chapeau”, as my learned colleague Jeremy Gordin has referred to him—has been in the news a lot lately, and the images do provide an illusion of shrinking headgear.

But the hats aren’t getting smaller—it’s Cele’s head that is getting bigger. This is so rapid a development that the millinery cannot keep pace; what seems an ideal fit in the morning will by early evening resemble a bottle cap balanced on a watermelon. It has been suggested that this ballooning of the head is the result of fibbing, a la Pinocchio, but this strains credulity; it’s the whole head with this gruff fellow, not just the nose. Besides, other cabinet ministers routinely lie and they don’t swell up.

It may well be a defence mechanism and that the minister has puffer fish properties; his pip gets enormous when startled or threatened. This, as we’ve seen with the dramatic public meltdown involving Action Society activist Ian Cameron, can be quite intimidating—and certainly very shouty.

The problem, though, is that, unlike a puffer fish, Cele is not able to shrink back to “normal” when the threat of an embarrassing question has passed. And so the head just gets bigger and bigger. There’s now a possibility that it will explode, releasing a million or more toxic spores into the atmosphere…

Actually, the stuff about the spores is probably not true. It’s more likely to be a beige sludge. But so what? Cele has never had much regard for the truth anyway, so what does it matter if, in our excitement, we fudge a few facts? Make stuff up? God knows, but that is his default position when called on to say anything in public.

In his outburst at Cameron at a meeting last week between police chiefs, community organisations and residents of Nyanga and Gugulethu, Cele went full tonto about his humble struggle hero roots: “I have lived this life. I have lived the life of being African … I have lived a life where my mother was called a kitchen girl and my father was called a kitchen boy [so] I’m not going to take any nonsense from someone who considers me a garden boy…”

But consider: back in July 2009, shortly after his appointment as national police commissioner, The Witnespublished a profile of Cele in which it was revealed that, far from being a lowly “kitchen boy”, his father, Gillford Cele, was an “induna” in the South African Railways. 

This, presumably, was a position of some authority, and instead of running him down, Cele should be talking up his father, proudly boasting that when Pop was there, the railways actually worked and often ran on time. 

His mother, meanwhile, died when he was nine months old. I don’t know if Albertina Mtshali was in domestic service, but she was related to Lionel Mtshali, an IFP MP and a former premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

It is nevertheless entirely probable that Cele’s parents were subjected to racial abuse, whether “petty” or otherwise. In this regard, there has been some chatter that Cele’s unhinged response to Cameron was “justified” and perhaps triggered by “traumatic” memories of apartheid. This, of course, raises concerns about mental health, and whether or not some sort of professional counselling is warranted. 

But it’s far more likely that it is Cele’s ineptitude and incomprehension of the duties and challenges facing a modern police force that is the cause of any “trauma” he may suffer. The man knows that he is useless, and this irks him. It is especially distressing that the public, those ingrates, know this as well. 

So, when some upstart at a public meeting reminds him that he is a failure, he has a childish meltdown, railing on about past injustices, real or otherwise, in a bid to cast his detractor as an old school racist. Such deflections solve nothing.

Still, the posturing must continue. Responding to the horrific attack by gunmen on a Soweto tavern on Saturday evening, a mass shooting that left 15 people dead, Cele hauled out the old B-movie platitudes and empty gestures, promising that, from Monday, there would be a heavy police presence in the area, including an elite tactical unit. 

“We want to saturate the streets here so that criminals don't take over our streets,” he was quoted as saying. “We will seal the community and conduct a door-to-door campaign to confiscate illegal firearms. Because there are people who use AK-47s killing people, it shows that there are many illegal guns in the area. Those with illegal firearms must return them to the police.”

Evidently the cops don’t work on Sundays. 

But, even if they did, this is very much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Not to mention boldly announcing the details of a forthcoming police operation to the world at large. Criminals do rather appreciate a heads-up. 

Cele also revealed an ambitious police recruitment drive. To ensure they were the right copper material, all applicants would be subjected to fitness, psychometric and integrity testing, as well as medical evaluations during the recruitment, selection and enlistment process. But, according to News24, certain candidates would not be accepted. “When you have a tattoo,” Cele said, “we don’t hire you because you have a tendency of being a gangster.” 

This is the sort of thing an idiot says.

A poultry matter

According to Mbhazima Shilowa, that noted African folklorist, the lesson about not counting chickens before they hatch is the moral of a well-known Xitsonga poem. There’s no point in arguing this, seeing as it’s a very old story, existing in many forms and various cultures. In all likelihood, Aesop even stole it himself from some lonely Nubian goatherd. So it is with folk tales. 

The thing is, Shilowa’s own folksy scribblings appear regularly on the News24 website and in a recent column he suggested that those commentators claiming the ruling party is facing a drubbing in the 2024 elections may, in fact, be a bit too optimistic vis-a-vis the counting of unhatched chickens: “Looking at existing political parties and their narrow sectarian policies, some based on racist and nationalistic undertones, it is my firm belief that they will not be able to unseat the ANC.”

This, he continued, was in spite of high levels of poverty, unemployment and the fact that many South Africans regard the ANC as “rotten and corrupt”. The problem, as he sees it, is that opposition parties fiddle about in “the margins” and fail to appeal to those outside their core membership and supporters. What most South Africans want is “a new majority based on [a] new and innovative set of ideas and policies that go beyond single issues and denunciation of the ruling party”.

A few comments, if I may. Firstly, Shilowa is rather good at counting—and not just chickens. Soon after he was appointed Gauteng premier, in 1999, he visited the offices in Rosebank of the Sunday Times

The paper’s then editor, Mike Robertson, proud of his staff, gave him a guided tour of the editorial floor. Shilowa seemed to enjoy it. At the sports department, for example, he joked about Chiefs and Pirates with the football writers. But he came over all grumpy when introduced to the sub-editors. Why, he wondered, were there so few Africans? Was there no transformation here? What was this old apartheid stuff? Why were the sub-editors not representative of the country’s demographic?

I remember being so dismayed at this crass behaviour that, rather than hang around like some lame duck and be introduced as the paper’s obviously white deputy features editor, I slipped off to the bar across the road with some colleagues. I don’t count my drinks, but I’m convinced we did okay that afternoon.

More importantly, though, it is only fitting and proper that the ANC is denounced wherever possible. And with great vigour. They are crap and Shilowa is well aware of this. He resigned as premier in 2008 after Thabo Mbeki, the small paranoid president, was ousted from office. Less than gruntled, Shilowa then left the ANC to join Mosiuoa Lakota’s Congress of the People, even becoming the fledgling party’s debut president.

Lekota later expelled Shilowa from COPE, something to do with mismanaging party funds and authorising payments “for purposes that were not legitimate”. Shilowa disputes this—but it’s a recurring theme in South Africa’s rotten politics: there was money, then there was none, and no-one understands why or who’s responsible for its disappearance.