RW Johnson: DA’s State of Disaster flip-flop – and beware Putin’s influence on SA’s 2024 Election

The BizNews tagline of “Get context. Know more” is appropriate in this brilliant summation by SA’s premier political analyst, RW Johnson. He expands on a column he wrote for BN Premium members, where the former Oxford Don admits being baffled by the DA’s flip-flop on the State of Disaster over Eskom. Johnson also applies Level Two thinking on SA’s watershed 2024 Election, warning how Russian president Vladimir Putin will have a massive influence on both the result and post-poll coalitions. He spoke to BizNews founder Alec Hogg.

Find timestamps for the interview below:

  • RW Johnson on whether the DA’s back and forth stance on the State of Disaster is normal in politics – 01:02
  • On whether the State of Disaster, from a political perspective, is going to help in any way – 02:30
  • On Ramaphosa’s decision amidst the coal lobby, its power over the ANC and how this will affect the 2024 elections – 04:45
  • On electricity and the rapid take-off of the private sector – 07:40
  • On whether South Africa needs outside, financial support – 09:40
  • On what we can look forward to with Eskom – 12:20
  • On how Johnson’s global network is seeing South Africa right now – 14:30
  • On how the ANC is financially beholden to the Russians – 15:50
  • On the Russians not wanting the DA in power – 17:30

Some extracts from the interview:

RW Johnson on whether the DA’s back and forth stance on a State of Disaster is normal in politics

No, it’s not. I don’t really understand quite what has happened. There’s no explanation, which I find very strange. But the only thing that I can think of is that in one of their statements in favour of a state of disaster, they say that they want a “ring fenced” state of disaster. I’ve no idea what that is. We’ve never had such a thing so it’s never actually existed. It’s therefore difficult to know exactly what was meant by that. No doubt they would now say that the state of disaster we’ve got is not “ring fenced”. As I say, I don’t understand what that would be. Otherwise, I can’t see any rationale for that position. 

On whether the state of disaster, from a political perspective, is going to help in any way 

I don’t see that it’s going to help in any way. Indeed, Ramaphosa’s appointment of a minister of electricity, seems to me, his way of trying not to take decision. The fact is that he’s already been in a position where Pravin Gordhan, on the one hand, and Gwede Mantashe on the other have been to some extent in tension over Eskom. And then what you’ve got is this third player, the CEO of Eskom and indeed a fourth player in the sense of the Treasury. It needed strong presidential decision-making. In the first instance, I think he should have supported De Ruyter and not allowed him to be forced out with his absurd accusations of treason. And he didn’t even express sympathy over the attempted assassination. That was very, very weak. But I think now, appointing a yet further minister to interfere in all this is just bizarre and it’s no good. Ramaphosa needs to make some decisions himself, and he can’t just keep bopping people off with more ministers and more structures and more committees and so on. We’ve just got far too many cooks now spoiling the broth, and I don’t think that’s going to help at all. 

On Ramaphosa’s decision amidst the coal lobby and its power over the ANC and how this will affect the 2024 elections

I don’t really see that the declaration of a state of disaster in itself makes any difference to dealing with the coal lobby. Again, you’ve got to have a political backbone to stand up to people and if you haven’t got that then that, then there are words and phrases to help. I don’t really see that in itself. It’s a dramatic sounding step and in that sense I think it’s a sense of theater and so forth. And it gives the general impression that the government is at last taking the whole matter seriously and really doing something. But the truth of the matter is this has now been going on for 15 or 16 years since we started having power cuts. The government has just accepted that it is a fact of the like going on. And the fact is, of course, that government ministers are not subject to power cuts. They are always exempt so they continue quite happily without. And it’s only because of the increasing rage and discontent of the electorate that the ANC has had a nasty shock and it’s looking at very bad opinion polls. Others panic to some extent. And therefore we’ve got this gesture. Though there is, of course, the interesting question about how a state of disaster will impact the form of the election, because can you really hold an election under a state of disaster? I don’t know. Are you going to postpone the election or what? It’s a good question and we don’t know the answer to that. 

On electricity and the rapid take-off of the private sector 

 No, I think that that is potentially happening right now. Lots of private individuals and also many businesses are all taking steps to provide their own power. And already we’re told that there are up to 10,000 megawatts being planned and one can see a very rapid take off in the private sector – much more rapidly than the public sector. And if they are given the go-ahead, then indeed we could find a very different situation before long, where a very significant proportion of electricity is provided outside Eskom. Of course, in the Western Cape we’ve already got Stellenbosch, Cape Town, George, etc. – all planning to produce their own electricity. So one can see that there is going to be a plurality of electricity producers. I would cheer that on. I think that Eskom is likely to die in the long run and that didn’t necessarily have to happen, but it’s been effectively murdered by bad management over a very long period. And I don’t think it can recover easily. 

On what we can look forward to with Eskom 

That’s quite difficult to know because we’ve got a whole lot of people who seem to all think that if they have a plan, which would mean that we can fix this crisis quickly, and there is a tremendous political push saying it’s got to be fixed almost immediately, I think the ANC can see what it means is that we’ve got to stop having power cuts before the election. And it really doesn’t look likely. When the Eskom board was asked for its best solution, it came up with this thing of how it will have relatively low level but permanent power cuts for two years – level three and four. Immediately, the ANC announced its own plan, which would dispense that. Although nobody can believe that they really know what they’re talking about. No doubt the new CEO of Eskom, whoever is going to do that job, highly political choice, he may have his own plan. I don’t know. Gwede Mantashe talks about his plan and so on. So we really don’t know at the moment. And lord knows what the minister of electricity will come up with. All that just leaves me feeling that the outlook is for continuing power cuts. Like Richard Quest, I think I prefer the term power cut. I think loadshedding is a peculiar and rather parochial coinage. I really don’t see how that’s going to be prevented unless the ANC resorts once again to cancel all the maintenance and keep the lights on, which is what they did at the time of the World Cup. And the other politically important times since then, I feel that could happen again.

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