SA and Zimbabwe: A shared destiny to power-supply Armageddon

Rejoice Ngwena of The Daily Friend writes on the power shortages currently faced by Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the impact it may have on their economies. While South Africa has a democratic governance and largely communicative institution, it still faces significant issues with power shortages. Zimbabwe’s state-controlled power monopoly ZESA, on the other hand, is run by ruling party praise-singer Sidney Gata and has experienced a systematic collapse of the power utility. The article argues that no free-market economy can thrive where electrical power supplies are inconsistent or run by corrupt and incompetent state-controlled entities, and that both countries need to address their power shortage problems to prevent economic collapse. Find this article below.

State-controlled power utilities frustrate free market philosophy  

By Rejoice Ngwena

Zimbabwe and South Africa share a common destiny to electricity-supply Armageddon. Both Southern African neighbours and traditional trade partners are currently reeling from unprecedented power shortages, with the problem looking as if it is not disappearing any time soon.  

At least South African power consumers are a shade luckier because they have a largely communicative institution and democratic governance. Eskom spokesperson Sikhonathi Mantshantsha was at pains to de-bunk his boss’s ‘accurate’ doomsday prediction. Chairman Mpho Makwena foresaw how that country would labour under load shedding well after election year 2024.  

Now, that is not good news for the ruling party African National Congress (ANC), which has to contend with opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) for the heart and soul of South African voters. The DA and most neutral South Africans have blamed high-level corruption, incompetence and central government meddling for the decline of Eskom, which is now talking  about taking almost 4000 megawatts of power off the grid. If that will not cripple South Africa’s economy, nothing else will. 

Read more: Can the new Minister of Electricity fix South Africa’s power crisis? – Katzenellenbogen

However, in Zimbabwe, state-controlled power monopoly ZESA is run by ruling party praise-singer Sidney Gata, a brother-in-law to the late authoritarian dictator Robert Mugabe. The ruling ZANU-PF government has presided over the systematic collapse of the power utility, originally with installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts and now providing a fraction of that on the national grid.  

Power outages and load shedding in Zimbabwe are not announced; they are spontaneous occurrences. ZESA does not even respect its own load shedding schedules. Consumers can only complain in silence or simply be buried under the state propaganda sludge of false promises. Unlike its counterpart in South Africa, popular opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) is not allowed to demonstrate. The last time CCC supporters attempted to defy President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s military junta, we ended up with 20 dead bodies in the streets of Harare. Given the proximity of elections, it is only a suicidal CCC supporter who can even dream of doing the rounds with a #ZesaMustFall banner.  

Even though the real cost of load shedding is yet to be computed, if the situation is not arrested, the two neighbours will soon be counting their losses in billions. Both Zimbabwe and South Africa practise a semblance of free market economics. Manufacturers and service providers thrive on innovation and competition. It is a free market that drives prices down and pushes quality up. But for this to prevail, there must be a conducive infrastructure environment presided over by a sensible liberal government. The bottom line is that no free-market economy can thrive where electrical power supplies are inconsistent, or worse still, run by corrupt and incompetent state-controlled entities. It may take time, but when our economies finally collapse, it will be impossible to rescue both these trade-dependent neighbours from the abyss.  

In my book entitled ‘My Freedom is Not for Sale – the Vagaries, Vices and Evils of State Control’, I dedicate all the 256 pages to emphasising why state control of companies destroys economies. State controlled enterprises are the first frontier; the prime example of public corruption and underhand deals. The governing parties in Zimbabwe and South Africa, ZANU-PF and ANC, and the parties they engage with in running have no commitment to cost-effective power distribution. Their object is plunder and self-enrichment. The only reason why ZESA and Eskom executives and their suppliers are not in prison is because they are protected from prosecution by those that benefit from corruption. 

Read more: GHL: Cape Town on track to end power cuts by 2025 – confirming 500MW in fresh electricity supply is imminent

Compared to South Africa, Zimbabwe’s economy is very small. Between the time the Kariba HEP station was built in the 1950s and now, we should have been talking power generation capacity well above 3000 megawatts. Considering Zimbabwe’s abundant coal reserves and the railway infrastructure left intact by Ian Smith’s colonial government, thermal power production should have by now been up and running literally in every major town.  

Bulawayo’s, Kwekwe’s and Harare’s thermal power stations are literally mothballed, only because the coal haulage capacity of the once vibrant National Railway Zimbabwe was decimated by state-inspired corruption. Just to prove how uncommitted Emmerson Mnangagwa is to this crucial energy value chain, only a few days ago he appointed an 81-year-old former liberation comrade and retired colonel, Tshinga Dube, to the NRZ board. This is the same Mr. Dube who runs another state-controlled entity, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, that was recently issued with a licence to export raw lithium ore when the government had just announced a ‘no raw lithium export’ decree. 

We keep hearing industrial pundits on both sides of the border boasting that our countries are at the front row of the fourth industrial revolution, driven by artificial intelligence. Our very own South African tech son, Elon Musk, has been making waves boasting about the merits of his Starlink satellites and how they will transform Africa’s broadband industry. Only recently, a tripartite 3D concrete printing housing project between South Africa’s departments of Science and Innovation; Human Settlements and the University of Johannesburg showcased the importance of industrial advancement. Zimbabwe is equally mulling a cyber city under the tutelage of United Arab Emirates’ Mulk International, a stone’s throw from Harare. 

It is only in free markets that cyber technology and artificial intelligence can blossom, but these require good old alternative current power. Liberal economists have long argued for the ‘intervention’ of independent power producers or the outright privatisation of both Eskom and ZESA. Radical leftist elements in both ANC and ZANU-PF may see the rationale of privatisation, yet the thought of losing their feeding troughs hardens their attitude towards privatisation. Ironically, even so-called enlightened opposition parties argue against privatisation on the basis that it encourages the looting of state assets to the lowest bidder. For now, Southern Africa citizens will have to bear the long hours of load shedding and eerie darkness.  

Read more: SA’s electricity and water crisis fuels inequality as affluent invest in alternative sources

Rejoice Ngwenya is the founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO) in Zimbabwe, and a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation. COMALISO works for a Zimbabwe that respects the free market, property rights and constitutionalism. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. 

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

Copyright of The Daily Friend 2023a

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