🔒 How world sees SA: Zuma broke it; now Ramaphosa can’t keep its lights on

EDINBURGH — Former president Jacob Zuma and his cronies wreaked huge damage on the South African economy through corruption, self-enrichment and incompetence. Zuma and friends, including the Gupta family, targeted the country’s big state-owned enterprises, identifying easy access to funds. South Africa’s power utility Eskom is in deep trouble now, and its woes are contaminating all sectors. The New York Times has picked up on the story of South Africa’s ongoing rolling blackouts, raising it up as an example of how President Cyril Ramaphosa is failing to fix the mess left by his predecessor. The US-based media outlet tells its influential audience that the situation is so bad that Ramaphosa can’t even keep the country’s lights on. Yet, Ramaphosa does not think that the electricity crisis will cost votes; he reckons voters will realises the problems are connected to the previous government and will maintain loyalty to the ruling party. – Jackie Cameron

By Thulasizwe Sithole

President Cyril Ramaphosa assumed power promising a “new dawn”, but – just over a year later – he can’t keep the nation’s lights on, says The New York Times.

A month before a national election, the worst rolling blackouts in years are regularly plunging South Africans into the dark, it tells its readers. With annoying frequency, warnings of “load-shedding” pop up on cellphones, referring to the power cuts imposed to prevent a collapse of the national electricity grid, says its Africa correspondent.

“Blackouts are the result of years of mismanagement and corruption in the state-owned utility, Eskom. They are also evidence of how difficult it is for Mr. Ramaphosa to reform the nation’s state enterprises and secure stable electricity for South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa’s most advanced economy,” reports The New York Times.

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“The blackouts are contributing to another year of lacklustre economic growth in South Africa, a deeply unequal society that desperately needs strong, sustained expansion to create the foundations of a post-apartheid economy.

“Every sector of the economy, from the mining giants and car dealers to big retailers and informal entrepreneurs, has been hit badly by the blackouts. Eskom, the state utility that produces about 95 percent of the nation’s power, is now regarded as the biggest risk to South Africa’s economy, according to the National Treasury and outside financial experts,” the media outlet warns starkly.

The New York Times expects the ANC to get the most votes on 8 May, but its margin of victory remains uncertain.

“A strong showing could give Mr. Ramaphosa a mandate to carry out reforms in his party and in government, his allies say. But a poor performance could lead to a continuing standoff between Mr. Ramaphosa and his party rivals, or even fuel an outright challenge, party officials and political analysts say.

“Weeks after becoming party leader in late 2017, Mr. Ramaphosa forced out of power Jacob Zuma, who had more than a year left in his second term as South Africa’s president. Mr. Ramaphosa, who had served as Mr. Zuma’s deputy for four years, promised to root out corruption, particularly in state-owned enterprises,” it continues.

Ramaphosa “quickly shook up Eskom’s board and eventually appointed a highly respected minister to overhaul Eskom and other state enterprises”.

And, as the nation’s biggest state enterprise, Eskom was the biggest target for corrupt A.N.C. politicians, their business allies and civil servants during the Zuma years, according to ongoing public inquiries into state corruption, notes the newspaper.

Eskom was “the main theater where corruption, state capture was taking place,” Jabu Mabuza, the chairman of Eskom’s board, is quoted as saying during recent testimony at a government corruption inquiry.

“South Africa was plunged back into darkness late last year, as Eskom began imposing load-shedding for the first time in three years.

“And the situation has become far more critical than in the Zuma years. So short of energy is Eskom that it has been forced to cut power at the height of summer in the southern hemisphere, and even on weekends when demand is lower because many companies are closed. The crisis peaked in recent weeks as Eskom imposed several consecutive days of “stage 4” load-shedding – the highest level – and even talked of the need to create higher stages of cuts.”

The New York Times tells how Ramaphosa recently proposed a partial breakup of Eskom – dividing the company into generation, transmission and distribution businesses under one holding company. This was with a view to making each entity more competitive.

But, Ramaphosa’s proposal has caused “a fierce and immediate backlash” from inside the ANC and the party’s traditional allies.

“Wary of losing jobs, the biggest union representing Eskom workers, the National Union of Mineworkers, has threatened to shut down the national grid in the days leading up to the election next month.

“Mr. Ramaphosa expressed confidence that the blackouts would not hurt his party at the polls,” it reports.

“The challenges Eskom faces emanated from our recent past, and many people are aware that there were a lot of wrong things that were being done in Eskom,” the president is quoted as telling the local news media.