Let's get real: Eskom is in crisis, NDP's in jeopardy

28 November 2014 - 02:01
By The Times Editorial
Image: Supplied

Millions of citizens, major corporations, small businesses and potential investors would have been hugely relieved yesterday to hear that, despite every appearance to the contrary, this country is not in the grip of a power crisis.

"I want to say there is no crisis," ANC MP Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba declared during a debate on Eskom in the National Assembly. Her assertion was supported by fellow ruling party member Zukiswa Rantho, and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown described our electricity constraints as "a challenge".

This is the sort of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place. Instead of listening to Eskom's engineers 15 years ago and ramping up the utility's capacity to meet increasing demand as economic growth gathered momentum, the politicians dithered.

The consequence was the load-shedding debacle of 2008, which cost the economy tens of billions of rands and untold numbers of jobs.

The credit crunch piled on the misery, but the Eskom debacle continues to choke the economy.

Economists say the present power emergency - caused by essential maintenance and unplanned outages at ageing power plants being run at full capacity to keep the lights on at all costs - will limit our economic growth to 2% next year.

This is better than the paltry 1.4% growth achieved this year but it will not be enough to ameliorate our massive unemployment and widespread poverty.

The National Development Plan, which is intended to create 11million jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment to 6%, requires sustained economic growth of more than 5% a year. These targets could be achieved if there were massive private-sector investment - a pipe dream as long as electricity is in such short supply.

This past weekend big industrial companies were asked, for the third time this year, to cut their power consumption by 10%.

This will happen again and again as Eskom battles to get the much-delayed Medupi power station on-line.

If this is not a crisis, what is?