Are we in a mess, or what?

THE frequent power shortages that we have seen in recent weeks, particularly stage 4 load shedding, were very disruptive to both business and ordinary citizens’ lives.

But the point has to be made that the notion of an efficient Eskom under apartheid is fundamentally flawed. Those who hanker after the “good old days” have taken to social media arguing that Eskom was better run and there was no load shedding then.

Well, there wouldn’t have been any power shortages because the electricity utility was used to supply predominantly one section of our population. Since democracy, more people have been connected to the grid.

Well done to government for that effort. But in the process of rolling out electricity one critical thing was forgotten: maintenance and plant replenishment. And I suspect that goes for most of our infrastructure.

One can forgive Eskom for power supply shortages caused by problems with coal supply and the quality of coal. It is a problem that is external and which can be resolved. Also, one can give allowance for the failure of power imported from Cahora Bassa due to the natural disaster in Mozambique.

But one cannot excuse the reported large number of tube failures and breakdowns at local coal-fired power stations. That is a maintenance issue. Most of Eskom’s plants are said to ageing, but that is not a recent revelation. Both government and Eskom knew this, but it would seem they expected ageing infrastructure to perform a miracle. The consequence is that the economy and families are today paying the price.

The truth is if we want our economy to thrive then we need to invest in its backbone: infrastructure. Instead, we have allowed our country to live on borrowed time and are now paying the price of poor decisions. I am not an engineer but I know enough about the consequences of lack of maintenance and underinvestment in our infrastructure sectors. Today we are seeing the results in the energy sector.

But the underinvestment and bad decisions on infrastructure are not confined to the energy sector. We have seen the same in transportation and water infrastructure. And these are key sectors. There was no better illustration of the mess in the transportation sector than the head of state being stuck in a commuter train last week. Even with the much talked about investment in Prasa’s rolling stock, there does not seem to be any promising relief for the commuter.

The same applies to water. Already, a number of townships are experiencing the strain of ageing water systems. Increasingly, I am reliably informed, water supply in a number of townships is becoming unreliable.

But that is what happens when politicians think they are engineers and know how to run plants. Politicians are much keener on new projects intended to bear their name or add to their resumé, than they are on ensuring that the sewers keep working.

Unless our government takes seriously the issue of maintaining and investing in infrastructure, ordinary people will continue to suffer and our economy will stagnate while unemployment continues to rise.

One can only appeal to those in authority to bring back engineers to help with the situation at Eskom, which is dire for our country.



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