Busisiwe Mavuso | Conspiracy theories are reckless and deflect attention from actually solving problems

POSTED ON: February 3, 2023 IN by Admin
conspiracy conspiracy

By Busisiwe Mavuso

It is critically important for leaders to make calm decisions based on the facts. Anything else is irresponsible.

Conspiracy theories pushed by some desperate politicians and others have long been a characteristic of SA’s political landscape but they seem to be increasing in both frequency and absurdity the more the delivery of reform stalls and the closer we get to next year’s elections.

Sometimes fuelled even by senior Cabinet Ministers, the pedlars latch onto any excuse to shift accountability as the problems mount, but when leaders repeat these excuses and conspiracy theories  they know these can quickly become accepted by some of their followers. According to US polls, nearly 30% of Americans and 60% of Republicans actually still believe Donald Trump’s lies that Joe Biden didn’t win the 2020 election legitimately despite that being repeatedly disproven through audits, court challenges, recounts and reviews.

Once the conspiracy theory is established, presenting evidence to the contrary seems to have little  effect. Describing this phenomenon of those refusing to believe the truth when presented with evidence and facts is not new to human nature and was recognised in biblical times in Jeremiah 5:21: “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”

From that, playwright and poet John Heywood established the proverb, “there are none so blind as those who will not see”. That proverb has carried through the ages because it is based on a truth that is recognised generation after generation.

In SA’s democracy, a  favourite conspiracy theory, pushed almost as a knee-jerk reaction by many a  politician who has been exposed for nefarious activities, is to blame the CIA or “neo-colonial forces”. More recently “white monopoly capital” has been latched onto with enthusiasm by populists as the favoured scapegoat despite the phrase having been drafted, edited and approved by a white-owned public relations company from England and paid for by the Gupta family in its bid to prolong state capture.

Conspiracy theories related to the country’s energy crisis have also been ubiquitous since the government ignored clear warnings as early as the late 1990’s of the electricity supply deficit that was headed our way. But last year they took on a particularly sinister turn when Energy Minister Mantashe accused Eskom of purposefully implementing high stages of loadshedding to overthrow the state. He repeated that assertion, saying the loadshedding was designed to defeat the ANC in next year’s national elections. This clearly illustrates where some priorities lie – and it’s not focused on resolving the energy crisis but deflecting blame, which unfortunately diminishes the potential to arrive at rational solutions.

Others have latched onto this conspiracy theory and are claiming that Eskom actually has money or can borrow more money to buy more diesel to avoid extreme loadshedding but is refusing to do so in an effort to ensure that the ANC loses the elections because of the intense loadshedding.

These conspiracy theories are particularly dangerous in the South African context, which as we saw in July 2021 is but a blink away from descending into social unrest.

There appears to be a sense of panic as the realisation finally hits home that there are no miracle solutions to immediately end loadshedding. But at times like this, with so much at stake in terms of resolving our energy crisis and maintaining social cohesion, it is critically important for leaders to make calm decisions based on the facts. Anything else is irresponsible.

And the facts have been clearly presented time and again, on Eskom’s financial situation (it has used up its diesel budget for the year, it has no more cash and cannot borrow more) and on the amount of new electricity that needs to be generated (4,000 MW to 6,000MW of new generation is required in the short term just to create the time and space required for maintenance and to cater for the retirement of coal stations).

Similarly, the updated integrated resource plan scheduled for release next month needs to be dispassionately determined with power sources considered on a least-cost/feasibility basis.

In a similarly dispassionate tone, there are other things that can be done to help things along. For short-term gains, implement a standardised wheeling and feed-in tariff structure, table the ERA Amendment Bill and reward energy storage and other auxiliary services. Medium-term measures include accelerating the renewable energy project pipeline, including the one-stop shop for permits and approvals, reward energy storage and promote demand management. For longer-term gains, measures to resuscitate or adapt the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme need to be implemented and development of the Richards Bay 3GW gas-to-power plant needs to be accelerated.

Finally, government needs to stop pussyfooting around the problem of sabotage and theft at Eskom and Transnet, where clampdowns are being driven by the utilities themselves “with police assistance” rather than by the law enforcement authorities who show little enthusiasm for that task.

*Busisiwe Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is the CEO of BLSAThis article first appeared in News24 Business.

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