Can Eskom leaving SA in the dark be the spark for rebellion?

Written by Mametlwe Sebei and Newton Masukuu

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Eskom’s load-shedding has once again plunged us into darkness, marking the beginning of a ‘black Christmas’ season for South Africa. This time the ‘black Christmas’ nightmare will not be limited to the most ‘unfortunate’ – the entire working class and many middle-class people are affected.

Implementing Stage 6 load-shedding in order to cut a record level 6 000 megawatts from the grid has pushed the country over the cliff. Major mining corporations, including Sibanye, Impala and Harmony, as well as big manufacturers, and other high energy users have announced interruptions in operations. This is costing the economy billions and can push it into another devastating recession.

Eskom is only a fraction of the deepening and prolonged agony of South African capitalism plagued by a vicious cycle of multiple ecological, economic, social and political crises.

Corporate ruling class cheers aside, business confidence in South Africa is lower than during the “lost nine years” of Zuma and capital formation has plummeted from 9% annual growth to 0,6%, meaning capitalists are not investing in new equipment, machinery and businesses. The claims of sabotage behind load-shedding serve only to deflect attention from the growing disillusionment with his ‘crusade’ against the ‘state-capture’ blamed for all the grave ills of the economy and the country. The extreme volatility in SA economy since the Great Recession of 2008/9 has been due to a stagnation and instability in the world economy, especially due to weak recovery in advanced economies and the slowing down of China. If Zuma’s regime was a period of dangerously low growth, Ramaphosa’s is characterised by downturns. These economic crises have aggravated a social crisis.

Unemployment is at its highest since the 2008/2009 recession, with over 10.2 million people unemployed, which includes everyone who could be working. Poverty levels plunged to record lows. A total of 56% (30.4 million) South Africans are living on less than R41 a day, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group. Hunger, homelessness, physical and mental illness are skyrocketing. Gender-based violence (GBV), child abuse, crime, drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise too. The quality of life of the working class is violently plumme-ting to new depths every day.

Devastating floods in the Tshwane area in December resulted in deaths, loss of property, and swept away shacks from the informal ‘Marikana’ settlements in Mamelodi. This, along with floods earlier this year in areas like KZN, highlight the increasingly cata-strophic impacts of climate change. At the same time five-year droughts have plagued the Western Cape, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape, five out of seven districts were declared ‘disaster areas’ in the 2015/16 season. Now, in the worst affected areas of Nelson Mandela Metro, Sarah Baartman, Amatole and Chris Hani Districts, loss of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) totaled 310 000. Weather authorities project drought conditions to continue into 2020, threatening almost 4 million animals.

R30 million per day is required to aid the worst impacted 1440 commercial, 8700 small-scale, and 55 000 subsistence farmers. To provide animal feed for the province, R1,8 billion is required, and tens of billions for the entire country. At the same time, it is reported that R220 million is ‘missing’ from the State’s emergency relief fund. In the meantime, chronic water shortages and dramatic loss of livestock continue across the country, in spite of heavy rains and floods.

Lack of relief funds for the farmers, working class people and the poor is in-deed a major problem in a context of an estimated R1 trillion lost to corruption and state-capture in the past decade. However, it is secondary to public debt.

The national debt equals R3 trillion and is expected to grow to R4,5 trillion in the next four years. In February, Mboweni reported the projected debt-to-GDP ratio (how much we owe compared to how much we produce and earn) of 60.8% for this financial year. This means what is borrowed makes up two-thirds of what is produced. This is likely to increase faster than expected with the looming recession in the global and South African economies.

High unemployment rates have eroded the tax base that grew by only 3.7 % this year. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the state to raise enough money to meet its expenses. As the state fails to collect enough revenue, the cost to service SA’s growing debt has reached R204 billion a year. During his medium-term budget statement, Mboweni warned that if nothing changes, “by the end of the three-year framework, debt service costs will be bigger than spending on health and economic development.”

Government itself is bankrupt and incapable of bailing out farmers and millions of starving people. The bankruptcy of many departments, municipalities, and SOEs responsible for providing essential public services meant to relieve the people in worsening crises, will do the opposite – aggravate an already dire situation.

Capitalism has no way out of these crises except through brutal austerity. This will mean mass retrenchments, growing levels of poverty and with it, xenophobia, GBV and ecological disaster of unimaginable proportions. Eskom’s rolling blackouts could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where we say enough is enough.

The working class must fight back and wrestle power from the elite. Struggles to save SOEs, to defend jobs and public services against corrupt politicians and their decaying capitalist system are vital.

The worldwide radicalisation of women and youth, fighting for their lives and for a future, mark a turning point in the development of the forces digging the grave of capitalism, forces that will revive the working class movement for socialism.

We have to organise and rebuild a united workers, youth, and civic movement against privatisation, unemployment, poverty, climate change, and GBV. Together we must demand free quality public services, including free education, health care, and decent housing for all. To ensure that production in SA is based on the needs of the vast majority of the country without further environmental destruction, and not the profits of the capitalists, we must nationalise the SOEs, mines, the banks, and large-scale agriculture to be democratically controlled by us, the working class. To move outside of struggles in isolated silos, we need to build a mass workers party that will campaign and unite the working class on a programme for a socialist alternative and do away with the decaying capitalist system, its crises and growing barbarism