Calamitous Year for the Class of 2021 and Business
The best word to describe the extraordinary events that have befallen this year’s matric pupils and business, is “calamitous”. While numerous efforts have been made by all stakeholders to save 2021 and achieve respectable results, circumstances got in the way. The same applies to business. A substantial number of businesses, particularly small concerns closed their doors permanently even after the lockdown was eased.
For almost two years, learners have been denied decent schooling time, largely due to COVID-19 and now load shedding. The economy, which was already ailing due to the pandemic, has also been hard hit by load shedding. I argue that this should have been avoided. This article examines the ways that disruptive Stage 4 load shedding could have been avoided in order to enable learners to better prepare for their examinations. This is not to say that load shedding is not necessary, but the schedules are poorly planned and the timing and the speed at which its stages are imposed are fundamentally flawed.
Indeed, the issue of load shedding has now become a political one, so much so that when one tries to be objective about it, one is labelled as factional or pro so-and-so in the bigger political scheme. Load shedding has caused anxiety, anger, and disillusionment amongst citizens. If the politicians are playing political games with Eskom, they must know that they are playing games with citizens’ livelihoods. The issue of Eskom is a serious one that can make or break the country’s future. While I focus on matrics and business as the two are intertwined, there is a plethora of issues around load shedding that cannot be covered here.
The matric examination timetable is published way in advance. Given that matric results are often used to boost South Africa’s image and prospects, nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of success. As with elections, all efforts should be geared towards achieving better results. Matric learners are the country’s future. While we all dream of a prosperous South Africa with highly skilled individuals, those in charge are so reckless in their planning that they jeopardise this future.
The new reasons provided for load shedding by the Board of Eskom led by Chief Executive Officer Andre de Ruyter in a media briefing on 9 November are extremely implausible. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us since March 2020, the long procurement process is not new, and to suggest that municipalities are not observing load shedding instructions is simply preposterous. Why did the CEO not raise procurement problems with Treasury much earlier? Why was efficient risk management not in place to reveal maintenance problems? Can the board provide a list of the municipalities that are not cooperating?
What can be done to remedy the situation? While I am no energy expert, in the first instance, a meticulous, detailed, long-term maintenance plan is urgently required. Secondly, more funding should be pumped into properly maintaining existing Eskom infrastructure; its lifespan is still worth saving. Third, Eskom’s communications team needs to be beefed up or reskilled to provide effective communication 24/7 to enable businesses, schools, clinics, and all citizens to plan their lives. Fourth, Eskom must hire people on merit; the sector is too critical to have incompetent employees. There are many well-trained retired or independent engineers with international experience that could be roped in as board members and managers at various levels
*Mr Khumbulani Mngadi is an independent analyst based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.