/ 12 May 2023

Editorial: Stage eight and the nation bickers on

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In the week that Eskom reached the “milestone” of 30 days without load-shedding, the power utility anticipates that power cuts will be maintained within stage two at most during winter. File photo by Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the administration of former president Jacob Zuma, the picture painted was that a family in Saxonwold was running the top office in the land and was to blame for state capture. What we hoped his successor would do was bring the country back to some semblance of proper governance in all matters of state. 

Five years later, that well intentioned search for greater accountability in the running of the state, rebuilding of trust and, in turn, the economy has morphed into nothing more than a blame game, finger-pointing about who was wrong, who is still wrong and the cause of our listlessness.

In all the bickering that we’ve been through over the past five years, from the long-running saga about the competence of former public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to this week’s parliamentary hearings into André de Ruyter’s allegations of corruption at Eskom, it feels as if we aren’t making progress in dealing with the structural fault lines in our country. Instead we are running into higher stages of bickering in line with our load-shedding, which is unofficially at stage eight.

There may be an argument to be made that, because of the relatively young state of our democracy, South Africa’s political theatre was likely to be dominated by parliamentary inquiries, commissions and high court judgments. It’s a Constitution that is only 27 years old and still needs to be tested and precedents set that will shape the lives of generations to come.

It’s an argument that would usually ease our anxieties about the overall trajectory of the country given the politically charged environment we are living through. 

But we aren’t living in normal times; they are abnormal and dangerous times as we consider the prospect of a nationwide power blackout. Set against this backdrop of confidence-sapping load-shedding schedule, an economic growth crisis and our other socioeconomic problems we are a nation bickering with itself while Rome burns. 

This week, parliament held centre stage with the hearings into how De Ruyter went about reporting corruption in the state-owned enterprise during his tenure. The ANC has taken offence at the insinuation that they are ultimately to blame, law enforcement agencies are on the defensive and are lashing out and a new Eskom board is distancing itself from the former chief executive. But in this contest, we are not dealing with the energy crisis. 

The Eskom board should be focused on the operational fissures in the company with a unit at our only nuclear power station, Koeberg, now looking to delay its return by 45 days. But here we are, bickering, stage eight.