Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) – Spar supermarket in Vredekloof, Cape Town, was one of many businesses shops left in the dark for more than two hours during loadshedding. The rampant leadership shortfalls of the day, the helter-skelter of electricity blackouts, and the long nights of energy insecurity threaten to cancel out the prospect of a better tomorrow, says the writer.
By Kim Heller
Fellow South Africans, don’t worry, be happy. Don’t despair even in the daze of the New Dawn, where electricity and festive cheer will both be in short supply this December. The pretty ornate lights lovingly woven carefully across Christmas trees by those lucky young ones and the warm festive meals heartfully prepared by the ever-caring elders are unlikely to form part of this year’s Christmas albums in South Africa. As we head towards Christmas, Eskom is set to gift us with even more darkness. It has been a record year with close to 180 days of loadshedding.
Loadshedding has not only cast a murky shadow over the sheen of The New Dawn but has sunk the many South Africans into a deep and dangerous pothole of despair. Eskom, cited as the greatest threat to South Africa’s economy by local and international financial institutions, was described as being in a “death spiral” by former CEO of Eskom, Phakamani Hadebe, in 2019.
But “don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright” These lyrics from a song by Bob Marley captures the President’s wail in his latest newsletter to the nation this week.
The President writes that although the year is coming to an end without several challenges being resolved “we have good reason to believe things are getting better”. This is the same out-of- tune that he has spoken for years now and the nation is growing increasingly weary and wary as it faces a black Christmas.
For many, the promises of President Cyril Ramaphosa are as believable as the long-awaited Santa Claus who never arrives with a load of gifts on Christmas Eve.
In 2015, Ramaphosa, in his capacity as Deputy President, charged with the responsibility of oversight of Eskom, along with other State-Owned Enterprises told us that in eighteen months to two years, we would have forgotten the challenges that we had with relation to power, energy and Eskom. “Be patient,” Ramaphosa said way back in 2015. The problem is going to be resolved, he said.
While for most South Africans, hope has been long shed, the President himself, appears to have hopes in load-fills. “Our great country will rise above adversity” he writes in his newsletter, “as it has done so many times in the past”. The President stresses the need to keep “closely focused on what needs to be done to make next year better”. We must not give up, the President says, “We are a people of optimism, even as we brace against harsh winds. We are a people who love our country and wish for its success. We are a nation that perseveres, and that never gives up.”
The rampant leadership shortfalls of the day, the helter-skelter of electricity blackouts, and the long nights of energy insecurity threaten to cancel out the prospect of a better tomorrow. For those unfortunate to be in hospitals at this precarious time, there may not be a tomorrow. For those who are, struggling to breath and just stay alive ass ventilators and other essential emergency equipment in hospitals ceased in the last stages of load-shedding, 2023 may never dawn.
But “don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright. After all the President himself says that one day there will be light but he just does not know when. For now, Ramaphosa himself seems to be in the dark about when loadshedding will come to an end.
This week in a shock announcement, the Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla said that his Department has run out of money to provide for the fuel to run generators at hospitals during loadshedding. Currently, with just seventy-seven of the four hundred hospitals and clinics in the country exempted from rolling and increasingly high waves of load-shedding, we are on the cusp of a national health disaster.
Things are generally looking gloomy. The country’s largest hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath, in Soweto, is reported to have a backlog of 11,000 surgeries and years-long waiting lists for operations and other medical procedures.
The President says he is having sleepless nights about the electricity crisis. “Eskom keeps me awake at night’ he told a gathering in Cape Town this last weekend. He assured people that loadshedding was a top-of-mind problem which was being dealt with “with the seriousness it deserves”.
The President’s words are seriously alarming. Perhaps the people of South Africa are not being taken as seriously as we deserve to be. If loadshedding is indeed being treated a priority and “with the seriousness it deserves”, then clearly the government is failing. For the frightening statistics on the economic damage that loadshedding is causing point to immeasurable damage and jeopardy. CSIR has estimated that the cost of loadshedding to the country’s economy during this year alone is R560 billion. And the real-life pain of human loss and suffering during these blackouts is immeasurable.
News24 health journalist Jesse Copelyn provides a heart-breaking account of the death of a patient at the Charlotte Maxeke academic hospital in Johannesburg due to loadshedding. She writes, “In the emergency room at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital in July, a doctor was holding his patient’s eyelids open with one hand and moving a penlight across the man’s face with the other. The patient, in his early 20s, was unconscious. Dried blood covered his hair and face. We all really wanted to help him,” the doctor recalls “but there was just nothing we could do. It was heartbreaking. By the time the power came back on — three hours after the patient had been booked into the hospital — neither of the man’s pupils moved.”
Happy black Christmas, folks!
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’