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 South Africa: the Lights are Going Off

by Shaun Willcock



In Years ago we wrote that South Africa was beginning to experience increasingly frequent power cuts. We have long predicted that this was going to get worse. And now – it has. Much, much worse. South Africa is facing a national emergency. The lights, quite literally, are being switched off, and there is no light at the end of this long, dark tunnel either. Not even a flicker.

When the African National Congress/Communist Party alliance came to power in 1994, it promised to provide electricity to millions of poor black people who had never had it before. Well, you can connect the homes of millions of people to the power grid, but unless you plan ahead for the huge increase in power usage by building more power stations, you are eventually going to reach the point where the existing stations are simply unable to cope with the vastly increased demand. This point has now been reached. The ANC promised “power to the people”, both politically and electrically; but it did not show any capacity for forward planning. Millions of homes were added to the power grid, but new plants were not built. The same electricity infrastructure that was in place in 1994 is still in place today. Eskom, SA’s electricity supplier and the country’s only purchaser of electricity, warned the ANC government a decade ago that new power plants had to be built to meet the increased demand; but the government, in its arrogant wisdom, refused to listen. And now Eskom is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Its CEO, Jacob Maroga, put it plainly and simply when he said recently: “We have run out of reserve capacity in South Africa.”


In addition to the failure to build more power stations across the country, Eskom, like other big corporations, implemented the ANC’s racist “affirmative action” policies, removing the skilled whites who had competently built and then maintained the giant electricity supplier for decades, and replacing them with far less skilled blacks who were appointed simply because of the colour of their skin, to meet racial quotas in the workplace and to satisfy the ANC’s anti-white hatred. And now the country is reaping the results of this insane policy. The lights are being switched off countrywide. South Africa is grinding to a halt and returning to the dark ages. And public outrage is growing.

To prevent a complete nationwide blackout, Eskom has introduced load shedding: every day, supposedly on a rotation basis, vast areas of the country are literally switched off in an attempt to save electricity. Entire cities and towns suddenly lose all power, usually without warning. People are told to go to Eskom’s website to see when there will be load shedding power cuts in their areas; but many times Eskom does not follow its own schedule, with power cuts lasting much longer than the two hours at a time they are supposed to last. Eskom has admitted this, saying that the level and depth of load shedding means that it cannot always stick to its commitment to keep power cuts to two hours at a time.
In addition, in a country with millions of rural people without any access to computers, looking it up on a website is an impossibility anyway.


This load shedding nightmare is having a devastating effect on the country’s economy. Businesses are losing multiplied millions of Rand every single day. It is also very dangerous, even life-threatening, for example when power goes out during a surgical operation at a hospital. And it is life-threatening in another way: in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world, criminals are taking advantage of the power outages to attack people in their darkened homes. The power cuts have led to despondency and pessimism across the country, eroding “local and international confidence in the reliability of South Africa’s electricity supply,” said Business Unity South Africa (Busa). There have also been reports that Eskom wants to shelve business projects until 2013. If so, this could seriously deter economic growth in the country, Busa said.

The situation is now so bad that several giant mining companies suspended operations in late January after being told by Eskom to reduce electricity consumption to “minimum levels.” Eskom told mining companies that they might have to shut down for two to six weeks, only keeping essential water pumps and lighting on.  Gold mining is the backbone of SA’s economy. This country is the largest gold producer on earth.  Coal mines, too, have begun to close down. These mines produce the fuel that fires most of Eskom’s power stations. Anglo Coal South Africa evacuated miners at all of its opencast and underground coal mines. And other coal mining companies were also going to halt operations. In the words of a chief economist, “Tens of millions of Rands a day are being lost. It’s a nightmare.”

For a long time the government denied that there was any emergency at all. But finally the situation became so bad that it could deny it no longer, and amidst rising public anger President Thabo Mbeki did something he has never done before: he actually apologised for the crisis and admitted that it was the government’s fault, as Eskom had recommended greatly increasing the capacity a decade ago, and the government had refused to do anything. “This goes to the heart of the arrogance and incompetence that characterises the Mbeki government. It refused to take the advice of Eskom because the Mbeki inner circle always, always knows better.”

After Mbeki’s admission of guilt, the government then admitted in late January that the country was facing a “national electricity emergency.” But it has no real plan of action. Asked what to tell South Africans about the crisis, the best that Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin could come up with was, “Switch off your lights if you are not using them.” That invaluable piece of energy-saving advice was trumped by this gem from Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, delivered at a special sitting of parliament: “Go to sleep earlier so that you can grow and be cleverer. Boil less water, use the microwave rather than the stove, take a shower and not a shallow bath.” Grow and be cleverer? Was she speaking to children? This really encapsulates the ANC’s attitude to South Africa’s citizens – it treats them as if they are children with no intelligence whatsoever. It is that old Marxist arrogance of “we know best, we are the intelligent ones, you are all idiots who must bow to our superior wisdom in all matters.” And, pray tell, how do millions of rural, poverty-stricken black people stop boiling their water and use microwaves? They don’t own microwaves! Millions also don’t have either showers or baths in their homes, so using one instead of the other is really a moot point. But this seems to have escaped the notice of the minister.
Erwin, like Mbeki, admitted that the government had to share the blame for this national disaster. “The decision to charge Eskom with the responsibility to embark on a large and urgent build programme in 2004 was in hindsight, late.


The president has accepted that this government got its timing wrong,” he said. But even at a time like this, being the faithful ANC man that he is, Erwin had to praise the ANC government even while admitting its failure: he said the country is becoming the victim of its own success, with electricity demand growing faster than expected! In other words, the ANC has been so successful at supplying power to people who never had it before, that they did not expect demand to exceed supply. How utterly pathetic. If the ANC was really successfully running the country, it would not have added millions of people to the power grid before it had built sufficient power stations to cope with the increased demand! It is not a success if as a result of failing to have any proper plan, the entire country will now be without power because the ANC gave power to millions without planning for the consequences. That is not the mark of success, but of stupidity.


Erwin’s praise for the ANC was echoed by Sonjica. She said in parliament, while giving her explanation for the crisis: “When we took over the country in 1994, growth had stagnated with over 3000 megawatts excess capacity of plants in mothballed state after they had been decommissioned. Our emphasis as the ANC... was to use the excess supply for growth, but also to turn excess into access for those who needed this basic service. A legitimate question that always arises is, ‘Why did we not foresee this problem?’ The major task of the ANC when it took power in 1994 was to revitalise the economy and extend services to the majority of our people. As the Department of Minerals and Energy ... we anticipated this problem.”  So: extend electricity services to millions who didn’t have it, even though the electricity supplier couldn’t meet the demand. And we are all meant to clap and say, “Well done”? If they had truly anticipated the problem, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

And ironically, the ANC’s utter failure to plan ahead for the country’s electricity needs will severely retard delivery of the very projects which the ANC has planned to improve the lot of the poor – a key aspect of its own political policy, and one of the things which keeps it in power. The masses of black poor people are clamouring for the ANC to meet their demands, and the ANC, in true Marxist fashion, has promised them the earth. But the earth needs electricity to run in this day and age, and turning those crazy Utopian promises into reality is becoming a rapidly fading dream. Not only will the infrastructure necessary to implement those promises not be able to function without power, but much-needed foreign investment just will not happen – not without power. Who in his right mind would want to invest in SA now? Without power, the ANC can kiss its hopes of fulfilling its wild promises to the masses goodbye. And that means disillusionment for the masses with the organisation they pinned all their hopes on.

In any other country, those responsible for this national crisis that is crippling the country would have resigned or been fired. But not here. Oh no. Here, Mbeki only fires those who disagree with him. All others he retains in their posts, regardless of how incompetent or corrupt they are. The repeated call from opposition parties has been for Erwin, the directors of Eskom, and even SA’s deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to do the honourable thing and resign with immediate effect. The deputy president had insisted, when she was Minerals and Energy minister, that SA would never run out of power. When the present Minerals and Energy minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, stood up in parliament and apologised to all South Africans for the hardships caused by the power shortages, she was met with jeers of “too late”, “fire the ANC”, “get rid of this government”, and “you knew [about the crisis]”, as well as many jeers about the huge bonuses paid to Eskom bosses.
But the likelihood of anyone resigning (they are too arrogant for that) or being fired (Mbeki never does that) is remote, to say the least. These men and women in power treat SA as their personal playground. This is black Africa’s way.

And how long is this national emergency expected to last? At least five years, according to Eskom – until more power stations can be built! It has admitted that it will not be able to meet projected demand for at least five years. Probably longer, if truth be told.


So what can be done in the short term? And what is going to be done?
Eskom said that the idea of introducing a quota system to ration the amount of electricity supplied to customers is “gaining acceptance.” If this is implemented, each customer would have a consumption quota and there would be “serious financial implications or incentives” for going over this or maintaining usage below it. This, according to Eskom, would give relief in the short term. Other plans include replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights, which government hopes will save 750 MW by 2010. Included in this plan are restrictions on the manufacturing of incandescent light bulbs.


SA, being the economic powerhouse of all of southern Africa, where most of its neighbouring states are barely functioning anyway, has also been supplying power to these neighbours for years. Eskom has assured South Africans that in the present crisis at home, it will not supply electricity to neighbouring states at SA’s expense. But questions remain, with contradictory answers emanating from those who should know. Those who can afford it are buying generators, but they are extremely expensive to buy and expensive to run as well. And suppliers are running out of generators and even the parts to build them, as demand has rocketed countrywide. For most, the only solution lies in stocking up on candles, gas cylinders, and torches. South Africans, rich and poor, are now getting used to huddling around candles in their homes at night. This was of course how our ancestors used to live, but a modern state cannot function in this way as in times gone by.

Perhaps the only good news from all this is that South Africa may now simply be unable to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. It is high time this crime-ridden country, controlled by corrupt and wicked politicians, ceased to be rewarded for the fraudulent election that brought the Communists to power in 1994. The world is being lied to, it is being told at every opportunity that SA is a “miracle nation”, a paradise on earth, and it keeps getting “rewarded” by being given various sporting and other events. People were ecstatic that SA was chosen to host the World Cup, the greatest sporting event in the world. But what they fail to realise is that after 2010, SA will begin to fall off the world map. The World Cup is the last major event that SA can host for a long time. The honeymoon is almost over. SA is no longer flavour of the decade. After 2010, it will rapidly begin to fade out of the limelight, becoming just another Third World African basket case. The world will cease caring, just as it couldn’t care less about all the other corrupt, war-ravaged African nations to our north. Seen in this light, the World Cup may prove to be one of the greatest disasters for the country, not its greatest shot in the arm.


The SA Tourism Services Association (Satsa) has now come out and said what many in this sport-mad country consider to be almost blasphemous: that SA might not be able to host the World Cup at all, because of its power crisis! Satsa’s CEO, Michael Tatalias, said: “We are hoping to have more than 300 000 visitors, all using electricity. The stadiums may have all the most wonderful generators in the world to broadcast the games, but will people come to SA to see them if they know they will be going back to hotels and guest houses with no power?” And this is just one more problem, added to the fact that SA is being increasingly viewed around the world as a criminal haven, where tourists are regularly murdered, raped, and assaulted. The police force can’t cope with the crime wave now; how will it hope to cope when we have 300 000 extra people in the country, all needing protection?


Tatalias added: “The building work on the stadiums is going to be widely disrupted. We have to ask ourselves honestly if we can still do this.” He said that the power cuts could destroy SA’s tourism industry. “The industry will take a huge financial knock this year. So far little attention has been paid to the effects of continuing power outages on the tourism industry.” Not unexpectedly, the government has declared that the World Cup will go ahead anyway, and that SA will be able to meet the power demands at the time. “We reassure the South African community and the world at large that all our projects will be on course and that the 2010 Fifa World Cup is not under threat,” said Sonjica. This is all they are really concerned about – the World Cup. The lives of millions of ordinary South Africans will be extremely difficult for years to come because of this government’s incompetence, but that doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that a sporting event will take place, come what may.

An editorial in a South African daily newspaper said: “South Africa was hailed as the country which was going to be the exception to the decay and disorganisation which are characteristic of much of Africa. Are the Afro-pessimists going to be proved right after all about this country?” Of course they are. They already have been, over and over again, for they are not “Afro-pessimists”, but Afro-realists. Only blinkered liberals ever hailed SA as the exception to the rule in Africa. Everyone else, living in the real world, knew what was coming. And sure enough – it did.


People in South Africa used to jokingly say, “Would the last one to leave the country please turn off the lights?” Well, the lights have already been turned off now. But the reality is that millions of South Africans, the vast majority in fact, cannot leave. They are here to stay, they have no choice but to live in this country and make the most of it. Perhaps, just perhaps, this crisis will prove to be a nail in the ANC’s coffin. It won’t happen this year, or next year, of for many years to come – but oneday South Africans will be rid of this terrorist organisation doing such a monumental job of mismanaging this beautiful country into the ground, all the while its members are face down in the trough they think is endless, greedily sucking up all they can and enriching themselves at the country’s expense. As I wrote in an article over three years ago: “Millions and millions of black people in this country have to first become thoroughly disillusioned with the ANC, before they turn against it and vote intellectually, and not emotionally. But this will take years; probably decades.


The history of post-colonial Africa shows this well.... The African National Congress is still viewed, by multiplied millions in this country, as the ‘liberation party’, that ‘freed’ the ‘oppressed blacks’ from the white man. Only when those millions realize that their real oppression only began when a Marxist government came to power, will they finally begin to turn against this monstrous organisation. Until then, despite the fact that South Africa has descended into Socialist chaos and corruption already, the ANC will continue to enjoy huge popular support. Already, millions are suffering as a result of the poverty, the crime, and the general collapse of all sectors of society; but it is still too early. Their suffering will have to increase even more, before the scales finally fall from their eyes. It will happen. Of that we can be certain. But not now. Not tomorrow. Not by the time of the next election. Nor the one after that. But oneday.”  But when that still far-off day comes, as come it eventually must as surely as day follows night, who will be able to repair and rebuild what they have destroyed?

February 2008

Shaun Willcock is a minister of the Gospel and lives in South Africa. He runs Bible Based Ministries. For other articles (which may be downloaded and printed), as well as details about his books, audio messages, pamphlets, etc., please visit the Bible Based Ministries website, or write to the address below. If you would like to be on Bible Based Ministries’ electronic mailing list, to receive all future articles, please send your details.

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