28 November 2014
There were howls of derision from the opposition benches when Lynne Brown, the Minister of Public Enterprises, compared herself to wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill making his speeches to the British public. “I feel a bit like Winston Churchill felt when he made his famous speeches.”
While Brown is hardly as articulate as Churchill, one has to admit, she at least listens to contrary opinions to the government’s line, so perhaps it was a little unfair to howl like that. Her comparison does provide some insight into how seriously she is taking the current power crisis. While she did not say it, she acknowledged that the country was facing a severe challenge – although it isn’t quite at war. She made light of it: “I was a bit nervous about saying that because some may be tempted to say that I look a bit like him too.”
Humour aside, she became serious. “There are certain parallels. As then, all the citizens of the country face a very serious national challenge. As then, there is hope. As then, overcoming the challenge lies in every citizen who is able to help, pulling together.” She said the time for the “blame” game was over, although she acknowledged that government did share some of the blame.
She said one of the big mstakes was that the government had delayed the decision to build the required mega-power stations – Medupi and Kusile. She did a bit of blaming herself, saying international contractors had failed the nation in relation to the two coal-fired power projects. “Some of the international contractors who we hired to build crucial parts of the new power stations let us down badly and we lost many months as we tried to rectify their mistakes.”
Strikes had also played a key role. “Almost a year was lost as a result of work stoppages because of strikes. As a result we are running between three and four years late (with the power station projects),” she said, in a debate in the national assembly called by the Democratic Alliance on the crisis at Eskom.
She even asked herself a rhetorical question: Does government have to take a share of the blame?
With the benefit of hindsight, we have to accept that we probably took the decision to build these two new giant power stations later than we should have.” She asked herself another question: Does Eskom have to take any blame? “Again, with the benefit of hindsight there was a very long time between the building of the previous power station and the building of the two which we are building now – Medupi and Kusile.
Clearly, this time around, Eskom did not have all the skills it needed to manage and oversee the construction of these two new giant power stations when the projects started.” But she said while she did not intend to dismiss these matters lightly, “this is not the time for focusing on blame.”
It was going to be “very tough” for about two years more “and patience will be needed on the part of all citizens”. The good news was that people “who know what they are talking about are saying that… if we take certain critical actions, there is every reason to believe that, from 2018, things are going to be looking a whole lot brighter”.
The emphasis would be on making Eskom financially stable. Second, thedecline in Eskom’s total generation capacity had to be reversed. She provided no detail of how this would be done other than noting that Medupi’s first unit wasset tocome on stream in mid-2015. She said the third major challenge was the “so-called coal cliff”.
“Between now and 2050, Eskom is needing about four million tons of coal.” In the short term not all of that had been secured. It was not that South Africa did not have the reserves, but it was about the supply being contracted and the logistics of supply. A conundrum going forward was how to ensure that Eskom was able to balance its books without having the authority to set its own tariffs Brown hinted that there would be a greater involvement of private financing “in the system” but there had to be a balanced against the need by the state to ensure energy security.
South Africa may not have a new Churchill, but Brown has at least been listening to voices of reason and unlike other ANC MPs in the house, she did recognise that Eskom was facing a crisis.
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