When days are dark … call Alfred

A tweet came through from Eskom on Sunday afternoon. It said: “Just Energy Transition – Re-invigorating, rejuvenating, and redefining Eskom’s destiny as we lead the energy transition into the future. Learn more about #JET.” It was accompanied by a Photoshopped image of high-voltage lines and, like silver bullets piercing Gwede Mantashe’s coal-black heart, solar panels and wind turbines. An incandescent glow on the horizon represents either a sunrise or an explosion in the reactor of a Russian-built nuclear power station.

Fortifying myself with a shot of diesel, I clicked on the link. The first thing I learned was that Eskom’s Just Energy Transition office was established earlier this year and that it has “made significant strides to…” An involuntary sob escaped my liquescent lips. I think it’s fair to say that Oscar Pistorius has made more significant strides than Eskom has in this past year. And that’s with his leg in for repairs.

JET’s vision “focuses on achieving ‘Nett Zero’ carbon emissions by 2050”. I assume they used quote marks as an escape hatch. When it comes to plausible deniability, it’s the only thinking ahead that Eskom does. In thirty years’ time, a very old Sikonathi Mantshantsha will issue a press statement: “We didn’t say anything about net zero. We promised nett zero, which is a very different thing. We are pleased to report it’s possible that we have accomplished whatever we thought we meant in 2021.”

For the hard of thinking, Eskom helpfully provides definitions for the words “Just” and “Transition”. Perhaps they are not yet utterly without shame as they refrain from giving us the definition of “Energy”. Simply put, there is none. Not in the power stations, not in the masses of people who aren’t taking to the streets to protest this horrific state of affairs. Let us put our faith in words like “Just” and “Transition” and hope that by the time 2050 rolls around, our children aren’t spending their days foraging for locusts and fashioning crude weapons to hunt down the generation that allowed this to happen.

Eskom’s vision and strategy for this JET malarkey strikes me as having been drafted in a shitty little prefab by two people texting their boyfriends while a man in a cheap suit stands at a white board with a finger up his nostril.

Twenty minutes after reassuring us that we’ll all be in a much better place in 2050 (I certainly will – I’ll be dead), Eskom sent another tweet informing us that stage 2 load shedding would continue throughout the week. Their timing at least suggests that someone there understands dramatic irony. I mean, nobody can be that bad at corporate messaging, right?

Who in their right mind goes from promising us “a cleaner and greener energy future” and “new exciting jobs” and a “greater preservation of biodiversity” to telling us, in the very next breath, to prepare for a return to the Stone Age?

To their credit, though, Eskom did preface it’s warning with the word “Regretfully”. It suggests there are people at Megatwatt Park who feel our pain. It hints at empathy. However, while an expression of regret is many things, it is not an apology. For example, it might not have been all that effective if the National Party had put a notice in Die Volkstem in 1948 saying, “Regretfully, black people will henceforth be segregated and denied the vote. This will continue until 1994. Please bear with us.”

Less than 24 hours later, we were dragged from stage 2 and dashed upon the rocks of stage 4. This time without the “regretfully”. Also on Monday, we were informed that “Alfred, Eskom’s chatbot, has assisted over 500 000 customers in just 4 months”. We need to come out in our millions and demand that Alfred be made CEO.

Anyway. It’s important to stay positive. For the children’s sake, you understand. It’s hard enough explaining why they’re too young to watch political parties stripping off and getting jiggy.

“But I thought they hated each other,” they say in their tremulous little voices. It’s the responsibility of our education department to explain that while no one has sex in a political ménage à trois, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t getting screwed.

It’s bad enough that we have to cover their eyes to spare them the grotesque sight of the ANC with its head up its own ass devouring itself from the inside. Rat snakes have been known to do that. The ANC should have one on their logo.

So. Games to keep the kiddies distracted this week as the country joins the Blue Train in going off the rails. Blind Man’s Buff. Big saving on blindfolds because nobody can see anything anyway.

Marco Polo. Instead of shouting “Marco”, you shout “Who’s there?” And instead of shouting “Polo”, someone else shouts “Shut the fuck up and open the safe.” Not really for children.

Musical chairs, except there’s no music because the power’s gone and dad has sold the chairs to pay off a gambling debt. Works best with lashings of alcohol.

Indoor bowling. Set up all the empty wine bottles and throw things at them. There are no rules and nobody wins. More of an adult game.




Raiding the municipal piggy bank

Our shiny new president is so far proving a much safer bet than the previous model, which was about as trustworthy as a Ford Kuga on a hot day. Jacob Zuma’s tendency to burst into song rather than flames disappointed many South Africans over the years.
This week, Squirrel Ramaphosa announced in parliament that he would be donating half his salary to a fund managed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. People who are too mean to even tip car guards are asking why only half. Why not his entire salary. Be reasonable. The man has a net worth of R6.4-billion. That’s pathetic compared to Nicky Oppenheimer’s R92-billion.
In other happy news, cadre deployment has proved to be a massive success as councillors and mayors around the country outdo themselves once again. Two years ago, irregular expenditure by municipalities increased by over 50% to R16-billion. However, rising to the challenge in the last financial year, they managed to boost irregular expenditure by an impressive 75%. They probably had outside assistance, but still, it couldn’t have been easy. You don’t just squander and loot that much money overnight. It takes … well, it takes a year, apparently.
I remember having friends who worked for the Durban municipality. While it was nothing to be terribly proud of, it wasn’t anything to be deeply ashamed of either. It was a way to earn beer money and stay out of trouble during the day. None of them ever rocked up at the jol in a new Ferrari or went from living in a bachelor flat to a five-bedroomed house overnight. I’m sure there was corruption at the municipality back then, but none of my mates ever benefitted from it. Too honest? Too stupid? Hard to say.
Come 2018 and auditor-general Kimi Makwetu says in the past year there’s been R28-billion in irregular expenditure among the 257 municipalities assessed by his office. Few people reading this will be able to grasp the concept of R28-billion. Think of it this way – for that kind of money, you’d be able to fill 400 swimming pools with Johnnie Walker Black. That’s enough to keep every man, woman and child drunk for three straight months.
Every year for the last five years the auditor-general has called a press conference and begged municipalities to take action. And every year they take this as a challenge to squander and steal even more money than they did the previous year.
The Eastern Cape, that glittering jewel in the provincial firmament, once again did the expected and walked away with R13.5-billion of the total amount wasted. That’s a solid 35% of the province’s budget. Taking the individual title was the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, incurring an impressive R8.1-billion in irregular expenditure. Another Eastern Cape municipality‚ OR Tambo District, put in a sterling effort but had to settle for second best with R3-billion wasted, lost and stolen.
Fifteen Eastern Cape municipalities are in “distress”, whatever that means. I get distressed if I run out of beer on a Sunday. Eighty municipalities in the Free State are on the brink of collapse. Me too, if I get to the shebeen before it closes.
Third to ninth positions on the roll of dishonour were filled by the city of Tshwane, the hellholes of Rustenburg and Ngaka Modiri Molema District in the North West, the eternally appalling Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City Metro and the scintillating metropolis of Madibeng.
Rounding out the list of most not-wanted municipalities and squeaking into the top ten was tiny Moretele in the North West province, punching above its weight with a cheeky R557-million worth of irregular expenditure.
All ten have made the list for the last three years running. If employees had shown that kind of commitment and dedication in their day jobs, who knows … ah, hell. What’s the point.
Meanwhile, refusing to be outdone, not a single municipality in the Free State, North West and Limpopo received a clean audit. Not one. It was probably orchestrated. That way nobody could be held up as a shining example to the others. No one likes a shining example. It just makes the rest of us look bad.
Standing upwind from the others, awkwardly shuffling their shiny goody two-shoes and trying not to look overly righteous, are the 33 municipalities that got clean audits. Coming as a surprise to exactly nobody, most of them are in the Western Cape. The other 224 rotting municipalities remain curled up in the foetal position whimpering, “Go away. It wasn’t me.”
Here’s another fun fact. Almost two out of three municipalities filed financial statements and performance reports so unintelligible and flawed that they might as well have been written in Aramaic on Wimpy serviettes.
And two out of three municipalities are dysfunctional while 87 need “urgent intervention”. They also need bigger cars, more overseas travel and better quality chicken wings, but time is money and both are running out fast.
The auditor-general must loathe his job. Every year since 2013 he gets up and repeats the same sad story and issues the same old warnings and taxpayers murmur and mutter darkly while the minister du jour says something really must be done and that’s it for another year.
Makwetu said that in 2015/16, 61% of municipalities made no attempt to even investigate his reports of wholesale malfeasance and mayhem. I’m not especially surprised by this. If my mates were robbing the company and giving me a cut and someone came along and said something’s not right and asked me to look into it, I’d stare him in the eye, shake his hand firmly and, once he’d gone, get the lads around to my house for a whiskey and tell them to step up the pace.
Makwetu also said the “audit environment” in which teams had to work had become more hostile. Yes, I expect it would in provinces where whistle-blowers and political adversaries are routinely found in remote areas suffering from an unexpected shortness of life.
Meanwhile, my hometown Durban took Worst Transgressor honours in the dodgy tender department after it was found that eThekwini municipality had awarded contracts to 377 fraudulent suppliers. This, compared to Johannesburg’s 80 and Cape Town’s paltry 68.
The audit was interrupted when the auditor-general’s team received death threats from someone who has clearly been using the supply chain department as his private ATM.
This is why I love Durban. There’s no beating around the bush, and god knows there’s plenty of bush and no shortage of beatings. But we don’t just kill people if we don’t like what they’re doing. We’re not animals, you know. We threaten to kill them first. It’s the Christian thing to do. If they don’t listen, then we kill them. Fair play to us, mate.
Durban mayor Zandile Gumede said the city was committed to clean governance and promised to find out who has been threatening who with what. Two days later, Gumede declined to comment on reports that the Hawks are investigating her for fraud, corruption and money laundering.
Thuma mina. With a baseball bat.