Even the government has lost faith in government

 ·16 Feb 2023

While President Cyril Ramaphosa has again repeated promises and plans to end the energy crisis in South Africa, the government is making its own plans to get off the grid and away from load shedding.

Ramaphosa delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday evening (9 February), outlining the government’s plans to address the power crisis, low economic growth, and poverty.

However, shortly after the president’s address, the head of infrastructure in the presidency, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, said that processes are underway to move all three tiers of government off the national grid.

Ramokgopa said that the government has, so far, secured 320 megawatts of power to move departments, including the country’s correctional facilities, off the grid – adding that hospitals and water reservoirs would follow.

He said that the ultimate goal is to move all government departments off the national grid, spinning the plan as a move to help the country with the energy crisis by reducing the demand.

However, some believe the plan comes across as a cynical move from the government to spare itself from the worst of load shedding – using public resources, no less – while leaving the rest of the country to suffer.

According to Efficient Group chief economist, Dawie Roodt, the plan shows a clear motion of no confidence in government, by government.

The public of South Africa has nothing to gain from this, Roodt said, as the majority of the country will simply stay on a failing national grid – while those who stand to benefit from the plan will be the ones handing out the contracts and those that are receiving the contracts.

The plan also comes amid the department of public works and infrastructure already paying to keep the lights on at the homes of ministers, and spending millions of rands on generators and fuel, while the rest of South Africa sits in the dark.

At the end of 2022, the department noted in a written parliamentary Q&A that it had replaced 13 generators at ministers’ homes, with more still to be purchased.

It added that the department had spent almost R800,000 running the generators since 1 July 2022, and the cost of running these generators had risen to R1.4 million.

Government not using government services

Moving government departments off the national grid is just the latest on a long list of instances where the government and politicians have shown no faith in the services they manage.

From widely reported instances of politicians avoiding public healthcare to get treatment overseas, to MPs and cabinet ministers ducking questions about whether or not they send their children to private schools, it is evident that those in government would rather not use their own services.

This was highlighted yet again this week, when another state-owned failure, the South African Post Office, announced that it has been left with “no option” but to cut its workforce by as many as 6,000 employees due to its poor financial position.

The reason? In a media statement outlining the contributing factors for these cuts, SAPO said that the government had abandoned the entity by no longer using its services.

Trade union Cosatu has highlighted this quandary in the past, positing that there is no incentive for those in government to fix any of the problems – in healthcare, public transport, energy generation, or postal services – when they themselves do not use or pay for any of these services.

Amid public outrage over free perks and privileges enjoyed by ministers in 2022, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele was asked why officials were paying for medical aid when they should be using government hospitals.

The minister could only laugh and say that perhaps officials should maybe use public services more. Since then, the government has only continued to abandon them.

“The government is now outsourcing its own services. It means more money spent on the taxpayer’s dime and more opportunities for corruption. They are simply abandoning their own entities,” Roodt said.

The economist said that the state is clearly highly inefficient – and the government knows it.

You’re on your own

Given the multitude of state failures and crises in the country – a situation Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto calls a ‘polycrisis’ – South Africans have been left with a sense that they are on their own.

Reaction and response to president Ramaphosa’s SONA have conveyed a sense that everyone – from citizens and businesses to investors, analysts and markets – are not buying any happy spin on the current state of affairs, and are no longer looking for platitudes and promises.

According to Standard Bank chief economist, Goolam Ballim, businesses and households in the country “have realized nobody is coming” to help them, and are increasingly turning toward self-sufficiency to deal with things like the energy crisis.

Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, said that in light of the government’s failures, it would ultimately be up to the people of South Africa to overcome the challenges the country faces.

“South Africans have skills, and we’re an entrepreneurial nation. We’ve also demonstrated through the years that we have a very strong voice when we come together, and there’s never been a more crucial time to use it.”

“Our country doesn’t deserve this crisis. Our people deserve economic growth, and they deserve jobs. Non-delivery is no longer an option.”

Read: New ‘minister of electricity’ for South Africa won’t be unveiled until after the budget

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