Ferial Haffajee: You are going to pay more for Eskom’s capture – and it’s not going to be broken up anytime soon
So, we expect a big announcement that drag on our pockets and on the national balance sheet, Eskom, is going to be broken up. And President Cyril Ramaphosa will win big applause because it will finally feel like there is action.
Pardon me for not joining the ovation. I’m too busy working to pay my electricity bills and saving up to pay the tariff increases that are going to bomb our wallets later this year. From a country with a cheap and reliable power supply, we have become a country with a patchy supply at astronomical prices.
Because my power gets piped by the City of Johannesburg, it adds an additional fee, which makes electricity one of the inflation drivers on my personal balance sheet.
While Ramaphosa’s plotting an Eskom big break-up, a set of hearings is being held around the country by the National Electricity Regulator of SA (NERSA). The new Eskom CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, had initially requested a 15% increase, but he and his team quietly amended that request upward over the festive season break. How sneaky is that?
We, the hard-grinding taxpayers, are going to have to pay the price of the corruption of Eskom by the Gupta family, the former CEO Brian Molefe, the former CFO Anoj Singh and the former acting CEO turned Twitter columnist, Matshela Koko. The line is that straight.
Corporate capture at Eskom meant that coal supply, procurement and employment were repurposed to suit the agendas and to line the pockets of layers of mafia networks. The Guptas were only one of them.
I hope NERSA hears the outcry from consumers and business that has reverberated at all the hearings, but chances are, Eskom is going to get the thumbs-up to hike tariffs way beyond inflation to pay for restructuring and to get over the debt spiral the utility is in.
It’s time consumers spoke up or other interest groups will capture all the political attention to ensure that the Eskom costs are borne only by our pockets.
Breaking up Eskom and privatising the good parts will drive efficiencies, but it’s not even going to get out of the starting blocks. Privatisation is worse than an F-bomb in South African political debate, although it should not be. "P" also stands for pragmatism, but that is not a quality that drives our power policy and debate.
The utility carries a bloated staff who are paid excellently in comparison with market (AfricaCheck has arrived at a cost per employee of about R600 000. This is an average).
By yesterday, the talk of restructuring saw protests at Eskom which are organised by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and by Solidarity. These three mega-strong unions will not countenance a single retrenchment and will fight tooth and nail against restructuring because it will come with demands for greater efficiency and productivity.
The unions have also been used by the coal lobby to front a fight against renewable energy. Standard Bank will no longer fund coal investments, so the writing is on the wall, but there will be a stand-up fight to ensure that wind and solar power farms do not get state support because it discombobulates the coal mafias.
The ANC always caves to interest groups, especially the trade unions, to which it is aligned. For example, the party signed the death-knell for electronic tolling when it exempted taxis from paying after the bosses staged a freeway blockade. Last year, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan also caved into inflation-busting wage demands by the unions at Eskom at the first power-cut through sabotage and after Hadebe wanted to take a tougher stance.
What should this tell you? The consumer and taxpayer (be it of personal, VAT or corporate taxes) is the lulu in the Eskom game and it’s on us that the cost of paying for Eskom will fall. Unless we speak up and out.