Let Gwede go and Andre stay, plus 5 highlights from ‘Vrye Weekblad’

Here’s what’s hot in the latest edition of the Afrikaans digital weekly

06 May 2022 - 06:29
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The Eskom crisis is going to grow worse.
The Eskom crisis is going to grow worse.

This winter stage 4 load-shedding, sometimes even stage 6, will be an everyday occurrence. The onslaught on Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and his operations head, Jan Oberholzer, will be on stage 8.

The fact that De Ruyter and Oberholzer are middle-aged white Afrikaans men makes them soft targets for populists trying to weaken President Cyril Ramaphosa. To compound matters their political head, minister of public enterprises Pravin Gordhan, is Indian South African and has his own political vulnerabilities.

Their detractors should be careful what they wish for, a senior figure close to the Eskom board told me.

“Without André and Jan Eskom will quickly collapse.” 

The onslaught against the two Eskom bosses comes mainly from the ranks of the ANC’s RET faction and the EFF, but other ANC structures are also looking for scapegoats for a problem that is both enormously frustrating and hampering economic growth. It’s an open secret that mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe is against De Ruyter. 

Ramaphosa is the only senior ANC figure strongly and openly supporting Eskom management. Gordhan is more careful: He allowed his department to issue a strongly worded statement condemning Busi Mavuso, the Eskom board member who clashed with parliament’s Scopa.

Ramaphosa knows it will be disastrous if De Ruyter and Oberholzer leave or are forced out, my source claims.

His statement on Eskom echoes Mavuso’s views in parliament: “In short, the load-shedding we experience now is the result of policy missteps and the impact of state capture over many years. This is the situation we have confronted since the start of this administration and that we are all working to fix.

“In doing so we owe the board and management of Eskom our full support as they work to turn the utility around. They have to keep the lights on while rebuilding Eskom as a viable entity that fulfils its developmental mandate as a state-owned enterprise, and positioning it for a just energy transition.”

The reality is that the ANC government admitted as far back as 1998 that energy supply would be insufficient by 2007. The giant power stations Medupi and Kusile were meant to solve the crisis but were badly planned and constructed. They have not been completed and break down from time to time. 

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The other power stations are on average 43 years old. They were not maintained in the Jacob Zuma years, and chief justice Raymond Zondo’s latest report details the extent of the damage state capture caused Eskom. 

Energy specialist Mike Rossouw says Eskom has lost control of its fleet of generators and management doesn’t know what to expect. Rossouw believes the electricity crisis is about to grow much worse. De Ruyter and Oberholzer are not the problem, he says; the problem is “systemic”.

The only solution, my source claims, is for Eskom to shut down its oldest and worst-performing power stations, channelling energy to the new power stations and building, along with the private sector, renewable energy sources. 

Mantashe and his supporters will, however, have to let go of their obstinate resistance against private power generators, or be forced to do so by Ramaphosa.

Eskom is, after all, a political problem.

Read the full article and more in this week’s edition of Vrye Weekblad.

Must-read articles in this week’s Vrye Weekblad

>> Browse the full May 6 edition

THE WEEK IN POLITICS | Max du Preez follows the DA leader’s trip to Ukraine, analyses charlatans police minister Bheki Cele and EFF leader Julius Malema, and looks at media freedom and America’s culture wars. 

FREE TO READ — THE NEWS DEBATE | The new bosses at Radio Sonder Grense managed to do what Hlaudi Motsoeneng couldn’t get right. They got rid of the serious news, despite the shock and horror of loyal listeners, and replaced it with light-hearted programmes and more music to enable it to compete with commercial stations. Is the SABC still serious about its role as the public broadcaster?

GATHERING DUST | There are too many stumbling blocks along the way to prosecute those implicated in the state capture inquiry reports. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

THIS WEEK’S BOOK CHOICE | This week we are reading nail-biting crime novels, the story of a farm, and a surprise that includes Dolly Parton.

STORM CONTEXT | President Cyril Ramaphosa was hit by a perfect political storm on Workers’ Day. We look at the context of his humiliation. 

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