How not to give a flying fact: a guide for Eskom spin doctors

They have zilcho idea of how to communicate with us, so here are some handy tips to help them along

04 September 2020 - 05:00
Despite years and years of rage and despair and mockery and resentment, Eskom’s spin doctors still think they’re managing information.
Here's an idea Despite years and years of rage and despair and mockery and resentment, Eskom’s spin doctors still think they’re managing information.
Image: 123RF/Sergey Nivens
I’ll say one thing for seven hours of blackouts a day. They definitely give you time to think.

Me, I think about all sorts of things. Like whether a senior ANC politician will go to jail before or after the Kusile and Medupi power stations start working properly, and whether that will happen in the 23rd or 24th century.

Sometimes I think about the pros and cons of nuclear energy, and I worry about where we’ll put all that toxic waste, and then I remember that we already have a storage facility which currently holds hundreds of barrels of slowly decomposing, hugely destructive, poisonous sludge. It’s called parliament.

Mostly, however, I think about whichever Eskom tweet or press release last appeared on my screen, just before my laptop or phone ran out of power; and I marvel at how Eskom’s communications department still doesn’t get it.

Even now, despite years and years of rage and despair and mockery and resentment, Eskom’s spin doctors still think they’re managing information. It still doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that their primary job – arguably their only job – isn’t about facts but feelings; to acknowledge, validate and perhaps subtly influence the emotions of a profoundly gatvol public.

To this end, I would like to propose that in future, all official announcements involving blackouts consist of the following:

 

1. Audio, preferably broadcast live, of highly qualified electrical engineers screaming at the ANC’s national executive committee and the entire staff of the department of energy for about 10 minutes. I’m talking Faith Mazibuko screaming at her staff about combi courts, or like what happens when the shredder in Nomvula Mokonyane’s office won’t work and she’s due at the Zondo commission in an hour. That kind of screaming.

2. An apology. If the Eskom comms department doesn’t know what that is, perhaps because it has spent too much time near the ANC, or else has previously worked in any position of authority in any industry in SA, they are welcome to cut and paste the following:

I swear, seriously, if you blame “heightened demand” one more time, there is going to be heightened demand for pitchforks and flaming torches, and trust me, thanks to you we’ve already stocked up on the latter.

“Dear South Africa. We are sorry. As in seppuku sorry. In fact the only reason we’re not performing said ritual is that it requires sharp tools, and we’re not sure how many of those we currently have at Eskom. So instead please accept this group prostration, and then excuse us while we hurry off to try to fix this cartwheeling shitstorm of pre-industrial, nose-picking, slow-blinking failure.”

3. Do not – for the love of God, I can’t stress this enough – do NOT blame us for using electricity. I swear, seriously, if you blame “heightened demand” one more time, there is going to be heightened demand for pitchforks and flaming torches, and trust me, thanks to you we’ve already stocked up on the latter.

So let me reiterate.

IT. IS. NOT. OUR. JOB. TO. KEEP. THE. LIGHTS. ON. BY. SWITCHING. THEM. OFF.

If you’re still a bit vague, let’s do a little test.

It’s 1940. You’re the British government. Germany is bombing your country. Do you:

  1. Ramp up the production of fighter planes and fast-track the training of pilots to fly them?
  2. Publish a daily schedule (subject to sudden change) showing which parts of the UK will be bombed when, and urge citizens to relocate to less bombed areas during their allotted time?

If you answered B, please reassess your choices in life.

4. Finally, tell us what’s broken. Because we know something has broken. It’s not demand. It’s not winter. Going from Stage 2 to Stage 4 with almost no notice isn’t part of a strategy. You’ve lunged for the red button because you’ve had to. So tell us why. And please feel free to use impressively opaque technical terms: we can handle it.

God knows anything is better than Jabu Mabuza telling us that “quite a long and big rubber stuff” has torn. I hear he’s a charming, respected and capable man, but if my choice is a bon vivant talking to me like a drunk pre-schooler or a dour, unsmiling engineer, I’ll take option 2 every single time.

One last thing: maybe stop telling us that there are “teams on the ground”? Because after the past few years all I can picture are teams literally on the ground, sitting or lying down. And that’s not what you mean, right? Right? Seriously, do let me know. But do it quickly because by battery is about to die.