Action man talks tough about Eskom’s crisis
SA’s economy and the country ’ s 55-million people are hearing Eskom management yet again make excuses for its dismal performance in supplying the country with uninterrupted electricity, showing how little has changed in a decade since the power utility brought the country to a halt in 2008.
In that year, Valli Moosa, then Eskom chair, used the word “crisis” after Eskom declared a “national electricity emergency” in January.
In the decade that has passed since then, Eskom has been completely unconvincing in its ability to sustainably deliver the electricity the economy needs.
At a media conference on Eskom, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan used the word “crisis” on Thursday and conceded that the problem had been more than a decade in the making. That a minister who was unsparing in his criticism of Eskom’s past actions and who appears to want to get things done has taken full control of a state-owned entity’s selfinflicted disaster is heartening.
His promises of consequences for mismanagement, massive cost overruns benefiting people and organisations, shoddy work, corruption and holding layers of management to account to fix problems are hopeful. His talk of reducing outages over the rest of December and giving businesses confidence that the worst will be behind them by the time the year end holidays are over and the economy restarts from midto end-January is another sliver of hope to cling to.
To have a minister speaking as frankly and openly about the problems and talking tough when it comes to fixing the problems and restoring confidence is long overdue. The economy needs more than talk and it is lucky to have Gordhan driving the process.
Governments in major economies are snubbing Huawei, the Chinese firm that provides network equipment to telecommunications players. The pressure could now be on the SA government to follow suit.
Countries including the UK, Germany, the US, New Zealand and Australia are growing increasingly wary about Huawei’s equipment over cybersecurity concerns.
According to reports, New Zealand and Australia have even banned the company from participating in future 5G networks.
In the UK, British Telecoms is stripping Huawei equipment out of its core 4G network, the Financial Times reported.
To make matters worse for the Shenzhen-headquartered group, its finance chief, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada this week at the instruction of the US. This was because the company allegedly violated Iranian sanctions.
SA telcos work closely with Huawei, which means they will be keeping a close eye on the latest developments.
Importantly, Cell C is trying to cobble together a R1.4bn loan from Huawei and other infrastructure providers, including ZTE. If Huawei loses its appetite for such things, Cell C may have to turn to shareholders, including Blue Label Telecoms and Net1. Blue Label, for its part, says it has not set aside any more cash for its 45%-held associate.
Meanwhile, given SA’s growing ties with the East, it seems unlikely that the government would jeopardise its relationship with China by shutting the door on Huawei.
The company is also a major investor in the SA market and its infrastructure runs deep.