From the editor's desk: Are you shedding me?

July 2022 News

Brett van den Bosch, Editor

I have heard it said that a plan is a list of things that can go wrong. For empirical evidence in support of that argument, one need look no further than our latest bout of load shedding. Results may vary depending on where you live, but at my home, which falls within Joburg City Power’s domain, the constant flip-flopping between Stages 2, 4, 5 and 6 that occurs on a daily basis is difficult to comprehend, never mind plan one’s life around.

But at least having a plan in the form of a load-shedding schedule helps soften the blow, right? On the contrary, the past three weeks have seen my area suffer blackouts upon the local substation ‘rebooting’ lasting 30 hours, 10 hours and 6 hours, respectively. As a result, the only dependable way of getting through a day relatively unhindered is to make my own plans, which assume that I will find myself without power at any time and for an indefinite duration.

The frustrations that come with this situation go without saying, but I’ve made a conscious decision to spare a thought, while sitting in the dark, for Eskom’s employees. It is tempting to blame things on the ‘useless technicians’ who can’t fix the very problems they’re hired for. But in their defence, they are most likely under-equipped with both the skills and the hardware – be it troubleshooting instruments, replacement parts or others - to do their job effectively.

Speaking of ‘defence’, these technicians often require security guards to protect their very lives while they’re simply going about their jobs in high-crime areas. And even the guards are not safe: as just one example among many, an Eskom security officer and six of his colleagues were shot at by around 30 heavily armed suspects during an alleged attempt to steal copper cables in Soweto earlier this year.

Following an unrelated incident in May where a technician was stabbed in the face and chest while installing electricity meters, Eskom’s SHEQS manager in Gauteng, Kith Maitisa, stated (in part): “We condemn such acts of violence against our employees in Gauteng where they are often assaulted, intimidated and placed in extreme situations such as being held hostage by some community members. This display of aggression and violence by communities often leads to employees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. It also results in delays in repair work and project completion, further extending the period that residents spend without electricity.”

Then there are the labour strikes by Eskom employees to consider, which not only add to our frustrations as electricity consumers, but are outright illegal. I do not condone illegal acts in any form, but although I’m powerless (pun intended) to absolve the perpetrators, I pose to you the following: Does that sound like a company you would want to work for? And earn peanuts for doing so?

A chorus has been swelling (sung by citizens and lately, to some extent, by Eskom’s management) calling for the reinstatement of former employees with specialised technical knowledge and years of experience in this field, or at least to contract their services. Politics aside, this makes perfect sense, even to the man in charge, André de Ruyter, who said in an interview on 5 July that the company is “now in the process of bringing in previous employees. It has been difficult due to legacy race issues, which are still sensitive and we cannot be oblivious to that. But from the perspective of the shareholder, there has been strong support for this on the basis that they come in to transfer skills.”

Going back to my “politics aside” disclaimer above, the reality is that politics – and politicians themselves – are notoriously stubborn against being put aside. So much so that you can bank on the fact that their top priority is staying in power, to the exclusion of anything and anyone else.

At least Eskom’s management team has a plan, but our government and its state-owned companies have a well-deserved reputation for either not executing on their plans, or doing so poorly, which often has even more disastrous consequences than having no plan at all. Of those who pull the strings, I urge: please do not confuse your best-laid plans with ‘job done’. I have heard it said that a plan is a list of things that can go wrong.


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