Eskom: the time has come for freedom from dependence
Freedom from dependence is liberating in that it places far more of your destiny in your own hands. Whether it is a marriage, a friendship or a business, dependence provides security when the going is good, but is disastrous when things go south. The country’s dependence on Eskom represents one of the biggest risks to us achieving our shared potential.
Every time the utility announces load shedding our economy takes a further beating. Freedom from dependence on Eskom is the only way to prevent this destructive cycle, made even worse by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Imagine for a second that a small business signs one large client and a few small ones. That large client accounts for 80% of the business’s revenue. If that client folds or leaves with its business, the implications are clear to see.
Imagine a retailer paying R30,000 a month in a shopping centre. Two weeks of level 2 load shedding - or a total of 48 hours of closure - are enough to force them to close the doors, and this after they have already been forced to close for extended periods due to Covid-19.
Often, when enterprises are in a position of dominance, such that their customers are entirely dependent on them, they sit on their hands - why is there a need to maintain, innovate and improve service delivery?
Not too long ago, the metered taxi industry was comfortably in control of the passenger vehicle taxi sector. If one needed a ride home from the airport, or to the stadium to watch your favourite team, they dictated the terms. Their loud, and sometimes violent, reaction to disruption from e-hailing services was the result of losing their position of dominance - suddenly customers had freedom of dependence.
Eskom is a monopoly. The country has identified the SOE as a strategic asset, and our collective fate is tied intricately to its prospects. Freedom from dependence in the Eskom context does not speak to privatising the electricity grid in South Africa - this debate is a rabbit hole that may well waste another decade. We have no more time to waste.
Eskom is predominantly coal-powered, and as we know with the IPP programme, government has earmarked renewable energy as a key investment area. This development is to be welcomed, however we must understand it is a long game. Time is like gold when you don’t have too much left.
If we consider that Eskom has announced that load shedding is here to stay, with some analysts such as Chris Yelland arguing that while 2020 was the worst year on record, 2021 may well be worse, and that until the end of 2022 at least, the situation is unlikely to change. We simply must find fast, sustainable solutions to become free of dependency on Eskom.
Every time the utility announces load shedding the economy is squeezed a little more, suffocating green shoots that have survived the hammering of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
For some time, many South Africans went out and bought generators. But, spare a thought for the thousands of stores in the middle of shopping malls or retail complexes that do not have the luxury of running cables from a generator hidden out back. Spare a thought for the micro-enterprises that cannot afford to purchase or run generators. This, despite the fact that burning even more fossil fuel represents a bitter irony of doing more harm to undo the harm.
Not all retail landlords can take the burden of providing continuous energy supply during load shedding, and this is why so many malls become lonely, dark places when Eskom flips the switch.
The damage that these interruptions - for hours on end during operating hours - cause is immeasurable.
Covid-19 forced large swathes of so-called white collar workers into a remote-working culture. How many corporates pull out their collective hairs when employees are not in Zoom meetings, or do not deliver on projects because, “I was having load shedding”.
Freedom from dependence is when this destructive cycle ends. Imagine a world where freedom from dependence means that it does not matter whether there is load shedding - small businesses can also stay open and remote workers have the power and connectivity they need to carry on delivering.
It doesn’t fix the problem - that is ever-present and represents the biggest strategic challenge for South Africa.
What it does, though, is take the lost productivity of hundreds of thousands of workers in thousands of businesses, out of the equation. Shops in malls and retail centres, remote workers, freelancers, consultants and labourers alike can all carry on. It’s a small plug in the hole - but a vital plug.
Portable uninterrupted supply systems were developed to answer the question: what does freedom from dependence look like for those who can no longer afford electricity distributions?
This philosophy does not detract from the strategic importance of Eskom, rather it enables big and small businesses to continue operating while Eskom renews itself.
We call on all South Africans to think out of the box and be creative: How can we, in our respective lives and businesses, achieve the freedom to give our economy a second life?