One from the archives – a letter I wrote to Eskom almost 10 years ago to the day.
This is the fourth time I am writing this letter to you. The first three times you turned the power off before I could save. I was angry before. Now, I am incensed.
I live in Cape Town, supposedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But what the hell good does that do when I can’t see anything for most of the time? Oh, sure, the sun still works, but how much longer can it be before you find a way to switch that off too?
The first time you plunged the entire province into darkness, you kept very quiet and hoped that nobody had noticed. Apart from those on life support systems, we weren’t all that upset. The blackout forced married couples to switch off the telly and go to bed where, without the option of reading, they were left with no alternative but to have sex. This kind of thing apparently helps to keep couples together.
Then you turned the power off several more times over the next few weeks. Suddenly it wasn’t such fun. People began stumbling around in the dark, barking their shins on the furniture and raising their voices in anger. Weeping women, sated with sex, begged their husbands to sell the house and emigrate to a country with electricity.
People began going hungry, fridges defrosted, beers got warm. The only thing moving in the streets outside were four men on horseback riding from town to town shouting in what sounded like Aramaic.
You, in the meantime, denied that anything was wrong. “Relax,” you said. “Everything’s under control.” The rolling blackouts got worse. Suburb after suburb, town after town, became engulfed in darkness.
Your men in suits went into a huddle. “The masses are revolting. What are we going to call this thing?” A middle-ranking executive blew his chances of ever getting promoted by replying: “An unmitigated fucking disaster?” But the truth is not something to be bandied about at times like these, is it?
“Let’s call it load shedding,” you said brightly. “That makes it sound like we are getting rid of something that we have too much of. People will want to thank us,” you said.
Apparently not. Instead, people wanted to hunt you down and ram a syringe full of sodium pentathol, or any other kind of truth serum, into your big fat capitalist bum.
Once the ANC had pointed out that your incompetence was going to lose them control of Cape Town, which indeed it did, you said “sorry” in a very small voice and pretended to cry.
The then public enterprises minister, Alex Erwin, felt so sorry for you that he made up a story about a bunch of imaginary warlocks who threw a bolt into one of the Koeberg nuclear power station’s generators, damaging a rotor and causing a serious power shortfall in the Western Cape.
Since Koeberg is your baby, and a potentially lethal one at that, the last thing you wanted was the government suggesting that just anyone could walk up to the facility and gain entrance by scaling a wall. Oops, sorry, Greenpeace already did that several years ago.
So you dismissed Erwin’s allegation. Erwin, under the mistaken impression that you were right behind him, quickly denied ever mentioning the word “sabotage” or even knowing where Koeberg was located. “Look,” said Erwin, “I don’t even use electricity. I’m a gas man, myself.”
So not only were we surviving on tins of baked beans heated over cheap candles, but we now also knew that our shivering bodies could be incinerated in a boiling tsunami of red-hot radioactive particles at any moment.
Then, once businesses hit the magical mark of R500-million in losses, you began publishing a load shedding schedule in the local newspapers. But even then, you never lost your keen sense of humour. I bet you found it hard to stifle a giggle when you tricked people in Hermanus into thinking that they would be without power from 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Wednesday, only for the lights to go out from 7pm to midnight on Thursday. You did this, with a twinkle in your eye, in towns around the Western Cape. And sometimes even in the Northern Cape, although it’s not quite as much of a laugh for you because the folk in Kimberley don’t even notice these things.
Sometimes, in the middle of a spot of load shedding, you would switch the power back on and then, a few seconds later, turn it off. What’s the point of earning R13-million a year if you can’t have a bit of fun? If you have the ability to make millions of people go “yay!” and, moments later, “fuuuck!” in perfect synchronisation, then you should go right ahead and do it. I know I would.
In the unlikely event that you decide to do the decent thing and resign, I would like to be the first to propose that Homer Simpson takes your place. He has worked at the Springfield Nuclear Power Station and is unlikely to cause more mayhem than you already have.
Apart from the loose bolt, short circuits caused by mist and soot, an unusually high tide at Llandudno beach and the gay pride parade in February, the power crisis is the result of you believing, in 1998, that South Africa was doomed to become just another corrupt debt-ridden crime-ravaged basket case and there was therefore no point in building more power stations only for them to be taken over by squatters or stripped down and sold on the black market.
Strange as it may seem, the government is also partially to blame. Let the private sector invest in building power stations, they said. We don’t have to pay and it’s one less thing for us to take the rap for when everything turns pear-shaped. The private sector must have taken a long lunch, because somewhere there’s a man sitting in an office in a government building who hasn’t had a visitor in ten years.
In that time, the economy has grown and more boys have reached drinking age. This means more fridges are needed to keep more beers cold. And so you discover there is simply not enough electricity being generated to keep all those new fridges running. This is how countries descend into civil war.
Now you are asking us to help you conserve energy by bathing in cold water, cooking over primus stoves, washing our clothes in the river and eating bread instead of toast.
We white folk are simply not accustomed to this lifestyle.
Welcome to the winter of our discontent. Vote Homer Simpson.