Doug Kuni, a South African electricity expert, has advised his compatriots to buy candles and those who can afford it, to aquire a generator because "you are going to need it for the next five to ten years." Kuni may be right. South Africa's power system, including the utility company that runs it, Eskom, is in a mess. Shockingly, of the country's installed 45,583 megawatts of electricity only 24,000 are available at present due to a series of old and new crises. There simply is not enough electricity to supply households and industry.
This is not the first time that South Africa has been plunged into darkness -- the 2008 power crisis was equally painful.
What is the problem here? The money stops with the country's leadership.
In the aftermath of the 2008 episode, the then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, famously acknowledged his government's failure to invest in energy infrastructure: "When Eskom said to the government: 'We think we must invest more in terms of electricity generation'...We said not now, later. We were wrong. Eskom was right. We were wrong."
The extraordinary leadership lapse in judgment becomes more evident when South Africa is compared to other mid-sized economies in terms of power-generation between 1994 and 2010.
In 1994, with Thabo Mbeki in charge of day-to-day management of the state under Nelson Mandela's presidency, South Africa's total installed electricity was 35,963 megawatts. By comparison, Mexico had slightly less capacity at 35,374. South Korea's capacity had even far less with 29,222 megawatts. By 2010, the tables had turned. While South Africa had crawled to 44,289 megawatts in sixteen years, Mexico had shot up to 61,512 megawatts. Meanwhile, South Korea was at 84,874 megawatts -- nearly double of South Africa's capacity.
When the newly-appointed Eskom's CEO, Tshediso Matona, said earlier this month that the current electricity problem "is bigger than Eskom -- it's a national problem," he was absolutely right, although his predecessors cannot be deemed entirely free from incompetence.
Charged with running an old creaking power infrastructure, much of which is said to be past its "mid-life," Eskom's own leadership and mangament are not known for innovative strategic planning. The utility firm is very much in the company of failing state-owned entities that include South African Airways (SAA) and South African Broadcasting Service (SABC). For example, two multi-billion dollar plants -- Medupi and Kusile -- which were supposed to add 9,600 megawatts to the national grid in 2012 have yet to be completed due budget overruns and strikes.
So who will save Eskom and by extension, South Africa's economy?
The cost of South Africa's power failure in 2008 was enormous in human and financial terms. It forced the world's three largest gold mining companies, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony, to shut down operations. The two biggest platinum mining companies, which together account for more than half the global supply, were also forced to shut down. Manufacturing factories closed as well. This was scary stuff, not least because mining is the bread and butter of the South African economy employing one million -- half direct employment and half indirectly, and the earner of foreign exchange at more than 50 per cent. The impact of power failure this time may be even more painful in the context of a weakening currency and further downgrading of South Africa's sovereign debt rating. Following Fitch and Standard and Poor's, Moody's downgraded South Africa two levels above "junk status."
That South Africa has plunged itself into darkness six years after crawling out of the 2008 power disaster speaks volumes. Quite literally, the future is not very bright in South Africa. It is too painful to watch.ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Hanover Park is a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The land on which the community sits was a milk farm fifty years ago. In the 1960s, its initial inhabitants were forcibly evicted by the apartheid government from Cape Town's District Six, a former inner-city residential area. In the evictions they were dislocated from their original homes and places of employment. District Six was one of Cape Town's most integrated and vibrant neighbourhoods. Hanover Park is named after the main thoroughfare of District Six. Blocks, or 'courts,' such as these dot the landscape of many Cape Flats communities. © Dariusz Dziewanski
The Cape Flats is an expansive, low-lying, flat area, which is set against the mountains of the Cape Peninsula. It is situated to the southeast of Cape Town’s central City Bowl. ‘The Flats’ have been described by some as apartheid's dumping ground. The apartheid government forced non-white people out of more central urban areas and into government-built townships. Since that time, Cape Flats have become home to much of the population of Greater Cape Town. Today, many communities of the Cape Flats are afflicted by serious social problems, such as high unemployment and disturbing levels of gang activity. © Dariusz Dziewanski
Hanover Park is one of Cape Town’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. Graffiti is ubiquitous throughout the community. It is the mark of local gangs, the most famous of which is The Americans. But there are countless other relatively unknown splinter groups and youth gangs, constantly fighting with and against each other in dynamic struggle over territory, respect, and revenge. Surrounded by violence, youth often turn to gangs instead of going to school – foregoing education, for a life of violence and dealing drugs. © Dariusz Dziewanski
While it is true that those young men – gang life is the domain of young males – that participate in gang activity must be accountable for their own actions, it is also true that gang violence is often a reaction to a kind of ‘structural violence,’ which kills slowly through alienation, exclusion, and marginalization. With few prospects for employment and empowerment, many youngsters believe there is no other option for life outside of gang life. They may live to die on the streets, or actively seek out a prison sentence and the respect that comes with it. South African police estimate that there are about 100,000 gang members in the Western Cape province, with the bulk of them in the Cape Flats. © Dariusz Dziewanski
One organization working in Hanover Park is First Community Resource Centre. One of the centre’s yellow walls is plastered with the front pages of major South African newspapers. But their hyperbolistic tabloid-style headlines ignore the complex realities on the ground. For instance, the seventeen-year-old pictured had escaped gang life, only to be pulled back in when his best friend – who had left the gang at his urging – was shot and killed. That was three months ago. He is now fighting to come out of that life once again – "to help give back to the community the lives that were taken.” © Dariusz Dziewanski
The First Community Resource Centre incubates the Ceasefire programme. Ceasefire – also known as Cure Violence – seeks to reduce gang-related shootings by intervening in, and mediating, group disputes. Central to this programme are ‘violence interrupters.’ Former gang members themselves, the interrupters’ credibility gives them significant influence in a community that does not always trust the police to protect them against the gang activity. As a result, many people do not report the crimes they see committed. The Ceasefire approach was created by the Department of Public Health at the University of Illinois and has reportedly reduced violence in “every [Chicago] neighbourhood it operates in by up to 34 per cent…[and] successfully cut retaliatory homicides by 100 per cent.” © Dariusz Dziewanski
Other initiatives at First Community Resource Centre allow former drug addicts to enrol in substance abuse programmes, and ex-gangsters to re-enrol in school to pursue further education or training. In one rehabilitation programme, youth produced a series of short documentary films, portraying firsthand analyses of how issues such as violence, drugs, and teen pregnancy affect the lived experiences of those in Hanover Park. Generally violence in the Cape Flats is portrayed as either an accumulation of statistics or the de-personalized description of incidents involving faceless assailants and victims. This project countered this narrative. Funding and partnership are currently being sought to create a full-length documentary based on the same methodology. © Dariusz Dziewanski
In addition to programmes aimed exclusively at youth, First Community Resource Centre also provides important community services; for example: feeding programmes and parenting classes. © Dariusz Dziewanski
If the apartheid-era relocations were designed to keep the coloured community in one place – according to Hanover Park’s official website – they also brought about an unbreakable bond between neighbours, friends, and families. The community’s website was created to counter negative perceptions of places such as Hanover Park, and to show that the Cape Flats has “ as much to offer as the people from everywhere else in the world.” Community cohesion is essential in local efforts against gang violence. © Dariusz Dziewanski
The children depicted in the photo above are posing for pictures, innocently making the same hand gestures they see adults around them make. This is a sad reflection of the way that children – some as young as ten – enter gang activities in Hanover Park and across the Cape Flats. Many of them grow up playing with shell casings left over from shootings; eventually learning to idealize and follow gangsters into a life of relative wealth and violence. But before this happens, there is a courageous effort underway amongst community residents and organizations – and amongst children and youth themselves – to break cycles of violence in places like Hanover Park. © Dariusz Dziewanski