The Eskom cull must happen, and ANC’s allies need to get out of Cyril’s way
The disparate forces within the ruling party spell doom for Ramaphosa's reform agenda and the SA economy
The greatest threat to Cyril Ramaphosa’s reform agenda is of course the unfolding full-on project launched by the state capture crowd to unseat him from within the ANC. This is because they know that his success means they all end up in jail. They will do anything to stymie him and get rid of him. And they are trying. Hard.
The threat that is a close second to his agenda is the fact that the ANC cannot make a decision and implement it without its allies – the trade unions and the hapless and ineffectual SA Communist Party (Jacob Zuma’s former power base) – forcing the party to essentially not implement necessary measures to turn the economy around. We saw that reality play out last week.
The words had hardly left Ramaphosa’s mouth that Eskom would be unbundled or restructured and split into three entities when the Congress of SA Trade Unions and the SACP staged largely ignored marches across the country to tell him that he must not touch the beleaguered state-owned enterprise’s bloated staff.
The march happened as the economy snarled to a standstill because the power utility had invoked Stage 4 load shedding – an occurrence that had power experts shuddering in fear because it was the most serious measure yet invoked by Eskom. Essentially, the utility cannot give the country power, meaning whatever jobs there are around are imperilled. Don’t tell that to Cosatu. They don’t care.
Rumours also swirled – fuelled by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, itself a faux left-wing splinter of the ANC – that Ramaphosa’s announcement was a precursor to the privatisation of the entity, allegedly for his own friends and relatives to profit off the proceeds.
As if that’s not enough confusion and contradiction, on Tuesday the ANC’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, suggested at a lecture in Soweto that a resolution was taken by the ANC’s NEC lekgotla in January that there would be no privatisation of Eskom. Instead, he intimated, Ramaphosa had misled the public during his State of the Nation address.
“We agreed at our lekgotla that there will never be privatisation of Eskom. We should not say things in the boardrooms and say different things in public,” City Press reported Magashule as saying.
So what’s going on here? The Eskom debacle points directly to the fact that the ANC’s “broad church” is a major impediment to effective decision-making and implementation. The party is made up of so many different ideological strands and interests that even dealing with a clear and present danger such as Eskom is stymied by selfish interests such as Cosatu’s.
Jacob Zuma once had a great idea. At the ANC conference in Mangaung in 2012 he boldly declared that he would ensure that school inspectors would be reintroduced and given powers to monitor progress at schools. The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union told him to go jump in the lake. That was the end of that initiative.
In the early 2000s, Thabo Mbeki confronted the trade unions and the SACP. He forced through reforms. The upshot is that the SACP and Cosatu worked behind the scenes, throwing people and resources into it, to install a rape- and corruption-accused Jacob Zuma into power. Mbeki’s economic legacy was trampled upon and ruined by them.
This is what now faces Ramaphosa: an ANC of so many interests and factions that turning this economy around and cleaning up the compromised institutions becomes a major undertaking whose result is largely unknown. He will face opposition from unions on Eskom and others. Yet it is abundantly clear that an entity whose staff and salary bill has ballooned so precipitiously over the past 10 years while its output has deteriorated, needs a staff cull, an efficiency audit and a real shaking out. Same for SAA and others.
Let’s not beat about the bush here: workers will have to go if Eskom is to survive and support a reviving economy. If that doesn’t happen then we are merely postponing the inevitable.
Yet Magshule was very quick to say this week: “There is not going to be any retrenchment of workers. We met the Union of Mineworkers yesterday, as the Lekgotla of the ANC has reassured South Africans that Eskom won’t be privatised.”
That is not even the contention, though. Even if it is not privatised, the retrenchments have to happen or else Eskom fails, and SA fails with it.
Ramaphosa and those close to him have to realise that failure to rein in many of these disparate forces within the ANC means that where they need to act with resolve they will be constrained. It means that instead of reaching 5% economic growth we will languish where we are now: an anaemic 1%, if not worse. That spells joblessness, poverty and under-development.