Shameful electricity shambles deepens the poor’s plight

Shameful electricity shambles deepens the poor’s plight

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By Pali Lehohla

THE Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (Ophi), jointly with the Rockefeller Foundation, released a report, The Interlinkages Between Multidimensional Poverty and Electricity: A study using the global Multidimensional Poverty Index, this month.

It is as if this were meant for South Africa, given the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week regarding electricity. The deepening energy crisis in South Africa will sabotage any initiative at socio-economic development.

In Davos at the beginning of 2017, then deputy president Ramaphosa, wooing investors to South Africa, made a bold statement that load shedding in South Africa was history.

Whatever Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko, the much maligned for corruption duo at Eskom, did under their leadership to bring load shedding under control by August 2016 remains a technical, leadership and management mystery, which the current crop of leadership at the power utility and their predecessors are unable to copy.

Each episode of loadshedding was met with an enormous load of resources and with the current one, there is no end in sight.

In the mix is a floating powership, designed and developed by Turkey’s Karadeniz, which is subject in our courts of law and suspected of involving a dodgy deal valued at R220 billion.

This comes at the time when Intellidex, in its study for Business Leadership SA, and Business Unity SA project a localisation of up to 20 percent in the manufacturing sector over the next 20 years.

Then, for South Africa to contemplate a zero-localisation content for a price tag of R220bn surely reflects on our dwarf economics. In another world such a decision would be weighed against the capacity of South Africa to build its own floating ship, or other alternatives including nuclear build.

Without such alternative considerations, the promise of being stuck in a court case of Noah’s ark proportions is an albatross on our economy.

What do we have now? In a hurried address by the president at the height of load shedding at midday, was the announcement of allowing industry to produce up to 100 megawatts that will be pumped back to the grid.

I am not a pessimist, in fact I am a terminal optimist, but I need a dose of facts to drive me to such a terminal state. The question asked in the context of Paris commitments to climate change and greening, is whether South Africa will be asking too much from the world to be condoned for upping its dirty energy production.

I am sure that despite our self-created tragedy, the world will not punish us for using the coal that we have in abundance for the next five or so years while we put in place a long-term strategy to resolve our energy crisis.

The report by Ophi will leave you awake at night. We know the importance of electricity to industrialisation. But Ophi unveiled that electricity manifests itself in 99 percent of multidimensional poverty indicators.

The social consequences of lack of electricity are major. They will wipe out the gains that were made under the flagship of the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

Ophi observes that more than half of those lacking access to electricity are children under 18, and this will disable their chances to lead a normal play and study routine after sunset.

For many of us, fast internet broadband is a necessity. As we commemorate the 45th anniversary of June 16, South Africa stands accused of deeply betraying its youth for silver shekels, curry and wine. Those who powered the struggle in 1976 were part of this treacherous betrayal.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and at Palilj01

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

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