The Jewish Report Editorial

Living in dark times

  • Vanessa
South Africa’s current energy crisis looms large over all of us. As I write this editorial, I have been interrupted by Stage II load shedding twice, and Jewish Report’s staff are plagued by the anxiety of not having the paper print ready before threatened power cuts. These are a miniscule tear in the giant crack of chaos this electricity crisis is causing and we have no idea how long it will continue.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Feb 11, 2015

Reasons for the crisis

Eskom blames the current load shedding on failures at three of its generators which, says Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona, “is a result of running our plant hard and delaying critical maintenance in our past efforts to keep the lights on…”  

President Jacob Zuma and other government representatives attribute the underlying problem to the legacy of apartheid - our infrastructure was never geared to supply power to such a vast population. Over the last 20 years electricity has been provided to 5,8 million households, reducing the percentage of households without electricity from 50 in 1994 to a current 1.

Critics of government policy, particularly within the DA, say apartheid cannot be government’s main excuse. Reforms that were called for in the 1998 energy white paper, when warning signs of an ailing power system were already evident, should have been implemented. The white paper had called for breaking Eskom’s monopoly which would have allowed thousands of watts of independent energy to come onto the national electricity grid.

For a period, from 2001, government prohibited Eskom from building new generators, to allow independent power generation companies to compete. But conditions were not attractive enough (a difficult regulatory environment and power prices that were too low) for independent producers to enter the market, and so there were years where neither Eskom nor the private sector built the needed generating capacity.

By the time the moratorium was lifted on Eskom and a large investment programme was finally approved, the focus on reform was again delayed by a more urgent need to keep the lights on.


Government’s fix

Government, led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, is now involved in trying to manage the current crisis and the group is confident its solutions will bring relief. The plan is to utilise diesel-powered open cycle gas turbines to bridge the gap between supply and demand, and work has begun to reduce maintenance backlogs.

But there are problems with these solutions: the diesel turbines are costly to operate; and there is an estimated R40 billion maintenance backlog in the municipal electricity grids. Also, the government says it is securing the national grid by buying an additional 1 000MW from private power producers which will come on stream within 18 months, yet last week the ANC decided to scrap the Independent System Market Operator Bill which would have symbolised the beginnings of really breaking Eskom’s monopoly.


Other issues

Electricity aside, other resource crises are lurking in the shadows. We urgently need better waste management practices as we reach a point where are our landfill sites are at capacity.

Our water supplies are under threa, with 37 per cent of our drinkable water being wasted through leakages. A 2014 government report states that an estimated R293bn needs to be spent over the next five years on water management and infrastructure to avoid a major shortage. This is 100 times more than the R2,9bn budgeted.

South Africans use 235 litres of water a day on average, compared to the international average of 173 litres, pushing the country into a water crisis that will, within a decade, rival the electricity catastrophe, according to a report by the Institute of Security Studies.


Our role

As South Africans, we tend to focus on Third World, immediate problems but preserving our environment and energy resources is fast becoming as urgent. The SA Jewish community needs to leads by example. Our schools, our aged-care centres and communal philanthropic organisations serve as examples to our country men.

In Judaism, the halachah prohibits wasteful consumption. When we waste resources we are violating the mitzvah of Bal Tashchit (“Do not destroy”) based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20.

There is also a midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13. “When G-d created the first human beings, G-d led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at my works! See how beautiful they are - how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it’.”

Let’s educate our youth who are tomorrow’s leaders and opinion-makers, about protecting the environment, let’s switch off the lights when we leave a room, conserve energy in our businesses, recycle, have quicker showers… these tiny drops in the ocean may have a momentum all its own…



  1. 3 Denis Solomons 13 Feb
    The answer lies in solar power and solar panels .
    Expensive to install but essentially and eventually cost-effective.
    the water problem may also be related to load shedding .
    No electricity therefore unable to pump water up to the desired area.
    A viscious circle.
    Apparently wind turbines are noisy.
    But the answer is definitely in utilising natural resources; the so- called " green-house " effect ! 
  2. 2 Gideon Hack 14 Feb
    No Denis. The answer lies in responsible governance, which is supposed to ensure the provision and maintenance of all essential services such as electricity, water and sewerage. ESKOM was in fine shape 20 years ago, but since then the incompetence of the ANC has led that critical utility to ruin.

    Of course, solar and other environmentally- friendly energy resources should form an essential part of future energy supplies, but it is all a waste of time and money if the "overseer" is the ANC.
  3. 1 Denis Solomons 16 Feb
    i suppose that one cannot blame the government for everything !


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