Eskom: A Conspiracy Theory

This morning will be was eaten by Eskom’s Stage 4 Loadshedding. I wish we could get past using their bloody euphemism. It’s Rolling Blackouts.

Eskom claims that the blackouts are caused by generators getting flooded due to the heavy rain. I don’t buy that story. Any architect/engineer who designs a factory in a region prone to seasonal heavy rain will design for drainage, even under severe conditions. Their story smells of bullshit.

I think (conspiracy theory spoiler!) that the entire situation is artificial, that there’s a Power Clique within Eskom, a (small) band of conspirators, mostly engineers risen into senior management posts, perhaps with a smattering of economists – who pull the strings and who are behind this, and every past and near-future, bout of Rolling Blackouts. Some of them date their tenure back to the 1980s or 90s – and they believe they rule the country (and points North!) They love BIG projects, they love cutting-edge power generation tech, and the love, love, LOVE running one of the largest machines in the world. And they’re deeply conservative. They hate change.

Their love of big is what drew them into the twin quagmires of Medupi and Kusile: believing in their own invincibility, they were blinded to the fact that they really don’t have the skills base needed to manage large and complex development projects.

Their love of cutting-edge tech is why they love nuclear and won’t let it go despite the fact that it is more expensive than pretty-much any other form of generation, and it is also what led them, like bees to honey, into the high-tech traps at Medupi and Kusile. Although it’s still coal (and if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy a liveable climate on Earth we really need to shut it down as soon as we possibly can manage to), it’s actually pretty advanced-process stuff that almost nobody in the world has ever deployed anywhere. So nobody actually has hands-on experience implementing it.

Their conservatism shows in their inviolate determination to hang onto coal and big nuclear as their primary generation technologies. All this smart grid, agile, lean and intermittent alternative stuff — wind, solar, wave, tidal — is viewed by them as toy-scale generation, unworthy of their lofty attentions.

And they hate the concept — floated by government and various analysts from time to time — of breaking up their toy into smaller entities. It would destroy their power-base. So isn’t it remarkable, then, that every time there’s serious talk in government circles about deep restructuring of the utility, the country gets hit with a series of rolling blackouts? What a coincidence.

It also means that Eskom’s impossible-to-service debt load is part of this inner cabal’s strategy. It serves their purposes to have the utility carry a debt burden so huge and so complex that it becomes a roadblock to any progress toward breaking up the behemoth.

Until this cabal is exposed, dismantled, and preferably thrown in prison for treason,… until the President of the country bites the bullet and forces a showdown with these shadowey power-mongers in a Maggie Thatcher moment that may cost the country some days or weeks of pain,… until then, don’t expect any changes in how Eskom is structured. And don’t expect any sort of reliable electrical supply unless you install your own solar system.