After the elections we shall see power shifts. While pundits speculate on how political parties will perform, one outcome is certain: electricity blackouts. Winter is coming in our SA Game of Thrones. It will be a winter of discontent.
Eskom has been burning billions – money it does not have – in order to keep the lights on until election day.
The ANC knows load-shedding leads to vote-shedding. And the governing party will do anything, even mortgage our grandchildren’s future, in order to retain political power.
Electricity has been almost stable for several weeks, and will remain so until May 8. But ultimately there must be a reckoning, a calculation of how much is really owed and how it will be paid.
Last weekend’s furore about a stalled R7 billion loan from China Development Bank gave a glimpse into Eskom’s prospects.
It is likely that one of the reasons why the Chinese delayed payment is that they became more aware of Eskom’s predicament.
In order to keep the lights on, Eskom open-cycle gas turbines have been burning diesel frenetically.
Last month the Mail & Guardian reported that Eskom’s diesel bill had risen from R4.67 million in January, to R43.62 million in February to R140.67 million in March. That’s 30-fold. The cost for April will be higher than for March as power has been on for longer.
In the big scheme of things, the R7 billion Chinese loan should not be a game-changer.
Earlier this year, the Sunday Times estimated that state capture had cost Eskom R500 billion. In February, Eskom’s debt was R419 billion. In this context, R7 billion is dwarfed.
So, too, is the R69 billion over three years announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. None of this will save Eskom.
The utility is not viable because it spends too much, inefficiently, and brings in too little. In order to survive, it must reduce costs and collect more revenue.
The proposal to split into different entities can only work if the core problems of cost and revenue are tackled honestly.
Eskom’s wage bill is a huge cost, reaching R36.8 billion for 47 658 employees by 2017, up from R7.7 billion for 31 972 employees in 2003. Yet there is no corresponding increase in electricity output.
Eskom must make room for efficient independent power producers, including those with expertise in renewable energy. And competent metros should be allowed to source energy directly from independent suppliers.
Consideration must be given to halting the giant Kusile coal-fired power station, described by Minister Pravin Gordhan as badly designed and poorly executed.
However, even if all this is sorted, a two-fold change of mindset is also required. First, Eskom and its employees must prioritise maintenance. Second, consumers must pay for electricity. Across the board, from big businesses to less affluent izinyoka, there are too many freeloaders.
Eskom and municipalities must install more meters in order to collect revenue on time.
While the ANC is tinkering with the idea of separate Eskom entities, it has shown no intention of changing the culture as required. The divided ANC cannot even change its own internal culture of corruption. How can it heal Eskom?
Use the power of your vote wisely.