Like many other South Africans this morning, I am pissed off about the electricity thing. Irritated by traffic lights being down. Annoyed about having to eat cold left-overs by the light of my head-torch. Inconvenienced by delayed meetings. Flabbier for missed squash games due to closed gyms. And poorer in ways I haven’t had the time or inclination to calculate.
The smug, self-congratulatory ex-pats now have a new refrain echoing from their lily-white strongholds in Canada and Australia. They are rolling around like porkers in sludge on this one. And there’s nothing we can even say in response. No one forced us to screw up our own country this time. We did this to ourselves.
That being said, what I am also tired of is a combination of pointless whining and defeatist inaction. Something needs doing. Here are some ideas.
1. Someone to blame: Yes, yes. We are all in this situation; we need to work as a team to make it better. But first, before we rush off enthusiastically and start group-hugging our buddies from Eskom and inviting them over for gas braais, how about someone taking the blame? I’d like someone whose ass we can actually kick, and kick hard. Someone to tie to a little, blinking, battery-powered LED light and release into the streets of Rivonia or Melville just for the sport of it. We understand that we’re fucked, thanks. Before we help fix it, let’s have a little public catharsis. Give us a name.
2. Turn it off: Eskom is fond of asking households to save electricity. Put in low-wattage bulbs. Switch off geysers. And I agree, we should all do our bit. However, driving around the dark streets of Jo’burg last night, I felt a quiet rage growing. I wasn’t sure why until I realised that despite the desperate need for electricity to cook and see in our homes, the great blue Telkom glow on the Hillbrow tower stood undiminished. In fact, the glowing insincerity that is billboard and other outdoor advertising continued to invade my space undiminished.
I’m not saying this is any great answer or will free up any significant power. However, it is obscene. If we are in such desperate times (and clearly we are), we cannot spare power to display enormous pictures of cheap sluts draped over Porsches or Olympic swimming champions degrading themselves by selling their abs to second-rate jewellery designers. For the love of God, can we start by turning off all the billboards in South Africa? We will still see your drivel all day long, don’t you worry.
3. Other power-generation options: A commentator on the radio last night rattled off about four possible power-generation options off the top of his head that could be implemented far quicker than the five-year timeline on building the kind of power stations Eskom has in mind. They are:
Barge-mounted power plants — One of these was constructed in about a year in Sri Lanka. Yes, it’s only 60MW, but that’s a start. Gas-powered turbines — Eskom in fact already has two of these, which it runs at peak times. Why not run them all day? Because it’s expensive. Do we care? No. Eskom pays the government fat dividends at the moment and its executives big bonuses for making profits. Stop making profits, you bunch of near-sighted, pock-marked, incompetent, bat-eared fools. Make a loss and do your jobs. Domestic, alternative energy sources — Solar power is one example of practical power generation that can be localised, down to individual homes if necessary. Again, it’s costly. But who actually cares? If we have to take a big, one-off hit to sort out the power situation, then the government and Eskom must take it. And take it now. Apart from the obvious benefits in the current crisis, alternative energy is a good long-term investment anyway. Generators — Again, this is a costly option, but if it’s the only one, then it’s time to consider it. And again, this is for Eskom’s account. Drop mine off with a big, fat bunch of carnations to say you’re sorry as well.
These are just a few ideas, and I’m no expert. Don’t tell me there aren’t more, and don’t tell me they can’t be done or are too expensive. People live under the illusion that South Africa doesn’t have ready cash. This is false. The most obvious demonstration of that is that our economy has literally outgrown our own ability to electrify it. The economy is booming. The government is making the kind of money out of state enterprises that would humble Colombian druglords. We just need to spend it on bailing ourselves out.
4. Stop selling our power: Good luck on getting a straight answer to whether we are, in fact, selling electricity to our neighbours. But if we are, this has to stop. Load-shed their asses from here to Cairo. Sorry for you, but you are not our first priority. And guess what, we just spent R40-billion on buying new fighter jets that we don’t need, and millions more untangling the corruption involved in that deal. We’re just itching to toss a few hundred exploding tonnes of hell in the direction of an aggressor on our borders. So take your medicine and start up your own gas cookers. Daddy ain’t paying for your parties any longer.
5. Split off the industrial grid: Someone I met while travelling a few years back had some big job at Eskom. She assured me that most of the power in the country — about 70% — is used by industry, particularly the big iron smelters. Now, while we can all appreciate the economic importance of our steel industry, it seems idiotic to run these two demands together. Surely new smelters must come with their own power stations?
These are some general points and rants. What I will say is this: if the heavy, steel-capped boot of bad planning and even worse crisis management continues to kick the South African population in the balls, we will plunge even faster into an already impending economic slowdown. And that, not some lost profits or lost votes, is the real crisis. Someone in this country is always ready to call doomsday. And I am almost never that person, because I love this country; I think our government is great and I detest the endless complaining.
But I dunno, folks. Maybe this really is it.