I can’t light no more of your darkness
All my pictures seem to fade to black and white
I’m growing tired and time stands still before me
Frozen here on the ladder of my life
Thank you, Elton John and Bernie Taupin: The opening verse of “Don’t let the sun go down on me”, sums up perfectly how many of us feel about our state electricity provider.
That might raise a chuckle, much as did the first headline writer who used the line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence – “Hello darkness, my old friend” – to poster Eskom’s rolling black-outs. Graveyard humour can come out at times like this, when disasters – man-made or natural – befall a country and when seeing the funny side can be an emotional life-saver. Londoners in the Blitz had it, as they watched their city destroyed around them.
So, let’s just “catch a lag”, bru, because it’s only a few hours. South Africans are known for being tough, but is hiding behind humour actually not obscuring the reality – that the power outages are the first part of a long, downward journey to becoming a failed state?
In present-day South Africa, our infrastructure is crumbling around us thanks to our own people. Eskom has been systematically pillaged by a small elite, with the result that the power utility now owes an eye-watering R400 billion (yes, that is not a misprint). At our current rates of economic growth, we are simply never going to be able to pay this back.
Already the load shedding has been turned into a racist football, kicked back and forth in anger. There are those saying there were never any power outages when the National Party ran the country. On the other side, there are those pointing out that was because many in the black communities didn’t have power in the first place. Lower demand, lower strain on the system.
There is also a giant, multibillion rand elephant in the room – the fact that so many communities are refusing to pay for their electricity, and threatening anyone removing illegal connections.
Soweto alone owes just under R13 billion – and not all of that debt has been accumulated by the poor or indigent either. Yet, there are no consequences and so the rampant theft continues. Scores of municipalities around the country owe many more billions to Eskom. A culture of handouts is not one on which to sustain, never mind build, an economy.
Cyril Ramaphosa, for all his tempting promises, has yet to tackle the other elephant in the room – the bloated and inefficient civil service. So, where does that leave us? A friend of mine described to me recently his visit to Conakry in Guinea.
The road from the airport to the city centre is choked with shacks, which have no electricity (resulting in the stripping of most forest for miles around); there is a limited sewage system (so people urinate and defecate in the streets) and garbage removal is non-existent, so parts of the city look like a rubbish dump.
The Presidential Palace is nice, though. Do you see where I am going with this?