Power outage

By PETER-DIRK UYS  |  April 23, 2008

Could we see the current electrical crunch in any way as a good thing? Maybe, because, for the first time, people are sharing an opinion not based on color or creed. Blacks, whites, browns, and pinks are making their voices heard without resorting to a race debate. The fact that black South Africans have, in the majority, only enjoyed electricity for the past 13 years makes their frustration and anger even more understandable. This is the fabric of revolution. Will Eskom, our official power network, be the Bastille of a future collapse of the rainbow nation? Rainbows don’t exist. It’s time to open the umbrella of opinion and go into the storm.

Since taking control of spin and gesture politics, Mbeki’s Politburo has dazzled with promises and blah-blah, enriched with quotations from Shakespeare, Woolworths, and the thesaurus. All the government departments that work well — finance, foreign affairs, defense, and tourism — are there only to enrich the top few. The rest of the government, supposedly put there by the people for the people, is in a mess. Education. Housing. Health. Welfare. Energy. Home Affairs. Environment. Transport.

Service delivery can’t happen without electricity. You can’t see the future moving in the dark. But for the first time since national freedom, rich and poor, black and white, businesses and buskers, are united in their need to find the solution that eludes government. The people will learn to lead and the government can follow.

My optimism will never be bland theatrical propaganda for bad, careless politics. I believe that we will make South Africa the country it should be. So I encourage my people not to pack for Perth to follow the soccer ball. Staying home is more fun. Our ultimate optimism is this: because of the energy crisis, we might now save the planet for tomorrow. Think of it as a unique opportunity to meet our energy needs without burning dirty coal or a dicey nuclear cocktail.

Mandela gave us that second chance. I think suddenly, out of the blue, we have a third chance to make things work. And a chance to remake our economy from one dependent on cheap power to a competitive economy based on innovation, taking responsibility for the future of the Earth, and the unique resourcefulness of all South Africans. Maybe if we see our country as half-lit and not half-dark, we still can win.

Pieter-Dirk Uys was awarded South Africa’s prestigious Truth and Reconciliation Award in 2001.

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