Archived 2008 Articles


Pieter-Dirk Uys

next >

The state of the unlit nation

Perhaps the only good thing to come of the power crisis is that South Africans are finally united in sharing an opinion not based on colour or creed

 – Pieter-Dirk Uys, The Mercury,  7 February  2008

The politician in charge of our country has admitted that the government got its timing wrong managing our electricity needs. I think he means "the cabinet".

President Thabo Mbeki says sorry. As if his government had added too much salt to the national stew. Actually, the stew was never been there. His comrades took the gravy. Now there's no salt either.

Is there anything here that gives hope? Facing the next eight years ahead without confidence in our electricity grid? Forget government; it is impossible to keep small businesses going when even the mines give up. We marvelled at the collapse of Zimbabwe. That took years. Our demise could take weeks.

Suddenly it is possible that Fifa, the other evil empire, which has no sentiment for "the people of South Africa", will move its 2010 commitment to Australia. It has already prepared for it.

Without power, our other attractions of rainbow appeal pale into gloom. We will sit with all those billion-rand unfinished soccer stadiums that cannot be adapted into instant power stations.

Think of the planned concrete piss-pot in Green Point, slap bang in the centre of that perfect image of Table Mountain from Robben Island.

Meanwhile the most commercial of heritage sites in the world is in trouble —  that famed university where Nelson Mandela and his first democratically elected cabinet graduated. Even Jacob Zuma passed through it in solitary confinement from Standard Three to Cum Laude.

This jewel in our crown now sits virtually bankrupt with a R27-million loss through corruption or incompetence.


A spokesperson for the department of arts and culture passionately came to the defence of his beleaguered comrades, saying that Robben Island symbolises what the ANC stands for. Comrade? You couldn't have said it more clearly.

Damn it, I want to be optimistic. I have always seen my glass as half-full and not half-empty. Now I think it's dry. I'll check once the lights come on.

As government has always written my best material, perhaps this national crisis is another wonderful ploy to grab more kickbacks? We know the arms deal enriched the creme de la comrades beyond their wildest dreams.

That R60-billion is peanuts in comparison to the R700-billion needed to erect the cluster of nuclear power plants that will bring our grid back on line. No one will complain. Everyone is united in their fury.

"Build the power stations, Zuma!" they will demand. Before load shedding, the nation would have just said: "Aikona baba!"

Optimism is catchy. It is a balm and a great therapy.

But when does optimism become propaganda? By constantly giving government the benefit of the doubt while logic and common sense keep banging at the panic button, is to support them in their carelessness and failures.

Since Mbeki declared himself an enemy of his people with his inexplicable stance against HIV and Aids, I have never been a fan. But I never thought I would see him dismantled by his own party in such a casual and shocking manner. Now he looks like the Mbeki puppet I use on stage.

The vote of no confidence in him and his cabinet on Friday could pack his bag by the weekend. Once unprotected by the office of leadership, the road to a court in The Hague for him and his medical/beetroot guru will be clear.

Could we see this power crunch in any ways as a good thing? Maybe, because for the first time people are sharing an opinion not based on colour or creed.

Blacks, whites, browns and pinks are making their voices heard without resorting to a race debate. The fact that black South Africans have in the majority only enjoyed electricity for the past 13 years, makes their frustration and anger even more understandable. This is the fabric of revolution.

Will Eskom be the Bastille of a future collapse of this thing called the rainbow nation? Rainbows don't exist. It's time to open the umbrella of opinion and go into the storm.

Since taking control of spin and gesture politics, Mbeki's Politburo has dazzled with promises and blah enriched with quotations from Shakespeare, Woolworths and Thesaurus. All the government departments that work well are only there to enrich the top few.


Look at Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Tourism. The rest of government, supposedly put there by the people for the people, is in a mess. Education. Housing. Health. Welfare. Energy. Home Affairs. Environment. Transport.

Service delivery can't happen without electricity. You can't see the future moving in the dark. But for the first time since national freedom, rich and poor, black and white, business and buskers, are united in their need to find the solution that eludes government. The people will learn to lead and the government can follow.

Heads must roll. Maybe there is some use for the half-finished stadiums when the soccer ball is kicked towards Perth.

No more Bafana Bafana vs Manchester United. Now it's Politicians versus Scorpions. A fight to the death, taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors. And no special leave on full pay for the one who says "sorry".

My optimism will never be bland theatrical propaganda for bad careless politics. I believe that we will make South Africa the country it should be.

So don't pack for Perth to follow the soccer ball. Staying here is more fun.

Our ultimate optimism is this: because of the energy crisis, we might now save the planet for tomorrow.

A unique opportunity to meet our energy needs without burning dirty coal or a dicey nuclear cocktail. Nelson Mandela in 1994 gave us that second chance. I think suddenly, out of the blue, we have a third chance to make things work.

And a chance to remake our economy from one dependent on cheap power to a competitive economy based on innovation, taking responsibility to the future of the earth, and the unique resourcefulness of all South Africans.

Ja-nee, if we see our country as half-lit and not half-dark, maybe we still can win.

next >