/Melanie Verwoerd | Eskom: Sorry isnt enough!

Melanie Verwoerd | Eskom: Sorry isnt enough!

2019-12-18 05:00

I understand that it takes a lot of guts to apologise when you are in authority. However, if they want us to take the apology seriously, it is essential that at least some of those who were responsible for where we are now, are held accountable – and not only the individual/s who were involved in the recent sabotage, writes Melanie Verwoerd

Thank you to the many people who reacted to my column last week on Eskom and the latest load shedding!

I would also like to thank the people who took my request seriously and drove past the ministerial houses in Pretoria when there was load shedding.

I’m sure it would not come as a surprise to anyone that, according to all reports, they were not in the dark – well, at least not literally.

No, while the rest of us were eating cold food, they (or more likely their staff members) were still happily cooking on their electric stoves under bright electric bulbs.

SHAME on you guys!

Although I try not to write about the same topic twice in a row I think it is important to revisit this issue again.

Of course on the day my column was published, the President decided to return to South Africa and finally address the nation about the crisis.

I would love to take credit for that as some of you suggested, but I’m sure he took the decision on his own.

After meeting with the Eskom top management, he had a lengthy press conference.

Understandably the journalists were not mincing their words and they sharply criticized the government and the President.

I have to give credit to the President for the manner in which he handled it. It was tough and he was clearly taking strain (he wiped his face in Nathi Nhleko-style a couple of times).

Yet, he smiled at the aggressive journalists and tried to answer the questions. Now if this was Trump, almost all the journalists would have been insulted or evicted by the end of the presser.

Yet, it worried me that the President still did not look like he was on top of things.

He announced various steps, such as cancelling leave for senior staff, but as journalists rightly pointed out, all these measures had been announced before and nothing had changed.

In addition (as I wondered about in my column) the President admitted that sabotage had played a role. He would not say much more except that they were investigating the matter.

Even though he spoke at length, one was left with the impression that there was more to the whole crisis than they were admitting.

After the President and politicians left the press conference, some of the managers of Eskom took over.

That is when it got a lot more interesting.

Amongst them was COO of Eskom, Jan Oberholzer.

Earlier that morning I had listened to a discussion between Oberholzer and Kieno Kammies on CapeTalk.

Then and again at the press conference I was surprised and impressed by his frankness and honesty. He spoke at length about the difficulties faced by Eskom and explained what had led up to Stage 6 being implemented.

“It was a perfect storm,” he concluded.

He and the other managers looked exhausted and truly upset. I could not help thinking that if only we had known the detail a few days earlier, the nation would have been far more accepting and understanding about the crisis.

Courageously, Oberholzer did not hesitate to talk about the capture of Eskom and the difficulty of trying to eradicate corruption in the organisation.

He also made it clear that although sabotage played a major role, it was not the only reason for Stage 6 load shedding.

Many factors contributed to the “perfect storm”.

However, without him saying it explicitly it was clear that all the problems Eskom had experienced earlier that week (the wet and low grade coal, the lack of maintenance, the break down of units), were as a result of dodgy contracts that politicians and their cronies at Eskom benefited from and/or the appointment of corrupt and incompetent politically connected staff who turned a blind eye to corruption and the neglect of the grid.

The sabotage was therefore not only someone who flicked a switch deliberately to create chaos in this instance, it was large scale sabotage over years, by politicians and their cronies.

The President and Eskom apologised to us for the latest load shedding.

I understand that it takes a lot of guts to apologise when you are in authority. However, if they want us to take the apology seriously, it is essential that at least some of those who were responsible for where we are now, are held accountable – and not only the individual/s who were involved in the recent sabotage.

For the nation to accept the apology it is essential that those who were responsible for, and beneftted from the corrupt deals go to jail.

This would include some of the politicians or politically connected. And none of those Oscar Pistorius jail experiences. In fact I hope that the prison authorities will make sure that their cells have load shedding at least six times a day.

Of course a few days later Ace Magashule, in his capacity as secretary general of the ANC said in an interview with the Sunday Times: “Stop blaming Zuma. We have been in this mess for all these years… It’s not for the first time. It’s not the first time we have been in a mess in Eskom and we have bailed it out… So I don’t want anybody to be blamed. You can’t [lay] blame and you don’t fix. All of us have been there, by the way. When these things happened, all of us have been there. Who do you blame? You can’t blame Zuma. Zuma was not running SAA. Zuma was not running Eskom.”

Could anyone have been more wrong in reading the mood of the nation, than this?

In the past week, I think the guys from Eskom got it mostly right. They were honest and frank with the nation. They laid their cards on the table and apologised. Most importantly they got us down to stage 2 and then we had a weekend without any power cuts.

Now they need the load shedding-free politicians to give them what they need to solve this crisis – whatever that is.

Is it just me or are you also not holding your breath?

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. See www.melanieverwoerd.co.za

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