Lights are being switched off in South Africa

Lights are being switched off in South Africa, by Jenni Russell.

I have always returned from South Africa aghast, anxious but ultim­ately hopeful. It surely can’t become too corrupt or inefficient, I think. The triple forces of capitalism, democracy and a free press will prevent it. Rotten politicians can be replaced; crooked state employees and the individuals paying them off can be exposed. Too many people and profitable businesses have an interest in keeping the state functioning, the trains running and the lights on for it to fall apart.

This year, as in the last, the lights literally are being switched off, and I’ve lost that confidence. For the first time I fear the country may be sliding towards irreversible decay. Corruption has siphoned so much money from the state and twisted so many people’s motivations that it has gone from being a private, hidden tax on the public to a burden that threatens everyone’s daily lives.

Electricity and maintenance:

It may have been the fifth power cut in five days that tipped me over the edge. …

It was just the restarting of rolling, daily, countrywide blackouts, which last officially two to four hours at a time, once or twice a day. In some areas they last much longer, for hours or days, as local substations collapse under the strain of being switched on and off so frequently. Fridges and lights blow, food spoils, restaurants without their own generators can’t serve customers, every business and individual using a computer is paralysed, robberies and break-ins soar in the enforced darkness.

This is not an unfortunate accident. South Africa’s power supply has been crippled over the past decade by the shameless looting of Eskom, the state power company, by corrupt African National Congress politicians, state executives and businessmen.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money intended for maintenance, new power lines and power stations have been stolen, diverted into fake contracts, bribes and private bank accounts. …

For 10 years, under the scandal-ridden president Jacob Zuma, it ignored the fact Eskom was being shredded. Nobody with the political power to do anything about it cared, not while there were private fortunes to be made by ignoring it or joining in.

President Zuma. Maybe his counting problem, on display here, signified something deeper.

Other businesses also looted:

Corruption has brought South African Airways to the verge of bankruptcy; the limping state rail freight company reports it has lost hundreds of millions to bribes and fraud; a bank in which many poor South Africans had invested their savings collapsed in 2018 after being looted of about $200m by 50 individuals. Provinces, schools, hospitals; no sector is immune.

The President, Cyril Rama­phosa, elected two years ago as a reforming, modernising leader, has established a public commission into corruption that is exposing staggering venality through­out the system, from kickbacks to the buying off of police and prosecutors. The revelations have stunned and depressed a nation that had no idea how deep the rot went. …

The tragedy is that it’s the people who are being betrayed but the democratic check I counted on, the verdict of the ballot box, is no risk here. The opposition parties are so weak that the ANC is still guaranteed its majorities.

It seems South Africa is going the way of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, like Zimbabwe before it. What is the common factor? Who could possibly have foreseen it? The western PC media doesn’t want to know…