Prepare three letters
Blaming apartheid, or previous management, is a tired excuse for government’s inability to address SA’s power crisis
hen new CEOs walk into their offices for the first time, they find three envelopes on their desks and very little else. Each envelope contains a different instruction: “Open after one year”; “Open after two years”; and “Open after three years”. Initially they are somewhat perplexed.
The envelope opened after one year contains a note that states: “Blame it on previous management”. A neat solution, as the previous management is not around to offer any defence against criticism.
The note in the second envelope, opened after two years, states: “Reorganise”. Again a neat solution, as reorganisation serves only the interests of the CEO. It leaves other staff confused and preoccupied with looking after themselves. Reorganisation also offers an opportunity to establish a patronage network, which reinforces the CEO’s position.
But when the reorganisation fails to resolve the problems and another year has passed, the CEO opens the third envelope. The note simply states: “Prepare three letters”. Indeed, the CEO has run out of excuses and there is no-one else to blame.
After more than 20 years in power, the ANC government has opened the first envelope. Apartheid is blamed for Eskom’s electricity supply problems and for rolling blackouts.
Unreliable electricity supply affects more than inconvenienced domestic users. It is a serious deterrent to investment. Who will invest if electricity supply cannot be guaranteed?
Unreliable electricity supply increases the cost of doing business in SA. Businesses either have to invest in their own generating capacity, or close during blackouts.
The result of blackouts will be yet another year of low economic growth owing to the same “investment hesitation” that besieged SA in 2014.
It is disconcerting that President Jacob Zuma and his colleagues do not accept responsibility for the electricity supply mess after more than 20 years of ANC rule since 1994. Government ignored many warnings about the problems at Eskom.
Now, with our backs against the wall, the ANC blames it on previous management.
What is the next step? Based on the story above, it is time to “reorganise”. It is not quite clear what this means for the Zuma administration and the ANC government, because we have already had reorganisation after the general election of 2014.
Zuma restructured his cabinet, albeit with no clear objective in mind, and the reorganisation did not deliver any results. It introduced greater spending on politicians in senior positions, with the accompanying trimmings of office, such as cars, houses, offices and travel.
Even more disconcerting is that a bigger cabinet brings with it an increase in the number of government departments and a concomitant increase in the number of civil servants.
Earlier research published in the Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe shows that SA faces a fiscal cliff owing to the rate of growth in civil service remuneration and social grants. A bloated cabinet accelerates SA’s progression to the edge of the fiscal cliff.
The reorganisation clearly did not achieve its objectives, as SA’s electricity problems, for one, have not been resolved. Zuma’s solution to a major SA problem was to revert to the first letter: “Blame it on previous management”.
Zuma should realise that his reorganisation after the 2014 election has not delivered the desired results. Reverting to the first letter is unconvincing. The then department of minerals & energy affairs had warned in 1998, under an ANC government, that steps should be taken to ensure that electricity demand would not exceed its supply by 2007. This warning had nothing to do with apartheid.
What does this mean? It is time for Zuma to prepare three letters for his successor. SA deserves a better future.
Rossouw is the head of Wits University’s school of economic & business sciences. He writes in his