A comment under an RW Johnson contribution to BizNews describes South Africa’s former Oxford Don as “the most astute political analyst we have”. Johnson’s level-headed, rational assessment of SA politics is evident in this fascinating discussion on two of his articles recently published on the website – the first on the ANC Conference; the second about Eskom. Johnson’s conclusion: both are examples of chaos which is accompanying the end of the ANC’s “catastrophic” era – together with hope that its replacement will herald a significant improvement for the country’s citizens. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.
RW Johnson On the ANC conference: 00:00:57 – 00:02:37
On ANC in 2024: 00:02:59 – 00:04:11
On Eskom: 00:04:49 – 00:06:28
On Migration to WCape 00:07:19 – 00:09:06
Private sector 00:09:35 – 00:11:14
What is the long run? 00:11:43 – 00:13:52
End to race based legislation 00:14:10 – 00:14:58
Rob Hersov on gas 00:15:25 – 00:18:51
A better future 00:19:07 – 00:20:28
Excerpts from the interview with RW Johnson
RW Johnson on the ANC elective conference in December last year
Well, I think, it’s no secret that the ANC has been in a state of decline. It’s not been able to pay its employees. It’s short of money. And from what we could see that the organising behind the conference was very inefficient. And the result was that from the very first day, everything ran very late. There was a lot of trouble over getting accreditation from delegates and the whole thing just didn’t work the way it used to. And it ended up with not being able to discuss any policy at all and people being not very interested in discussing policy because the policy commissions were very, very poorly attended. And as soon as they had managed to elect the new MEC and the new top seven, the delegates just left. By the time it came to Ramaphosa’s closing speech, the hall was half empty. It’s clear that for most of the delegates what the conference was about was electing the big bosses who run the policy in government, i.e. the patronage bosses. They felt that was a job done and they went. And, you know, I just think this is part of the overall decline, which was registered at the conference by an enormous drop in party membership, which is a further sign because I suspect that’s still going on. So I think that all the deficiencies of the conference were part of that general decline.
On the possibility of the ANC being well below 50% in 2024 and fears over the fairness of the election
I think in any system one ought to be vigilant about that. I think that the opposition parties have been and I think that, there have been deficiencies in the way we run the elections, no doubt about that. The IEC has usually been staffed with people who are clearly ANC aligned. There’s no two ways about that. Nonetheless, I think our elections have been reasonably fair and that our expectation is that that will continue. But I think first of all, we can’t forecast 2024. It’s far too soon to really give a strong opinion on that. But I agree with you that it does look, if things continue as they are now, the ANC is likely to get below 50%. But the key question is how far below? Because if it’s 45 or anything between 45 and 50, then I don’t think there’s a problem: they’ll quickly sew up a deal with tiny parties that don’t really make any difference to anything. And things will continue as before. In order to really make a difference, the ANC has to fall below 45.
On the Eskom disaster
Well, I think the big point is that since ‘94, we actually now have a lower generation capacity than we have, theoretically we have added about 5000 megawatts to our capacity. But that’s about all. Now, Eskom itself predicts that by 2030 we need another 55,000 megawatts because lots of the existing coal powered coal fired power stations are old and need to be retired now. There is absolutely no sort of any plan to produce that 55,000 megawatts. And as we know, Mantashe has successfully blocked up until now what should have been renewable power coming on stream years ago and he has prevented that. But already I think what’s happening is that both ordinary individuals and companies are quickly beginning to generate their own capacity through either solar generators, inverters, whatever it may be, that in effect are already lots and lots of individual power producers. There’s no doubt that this trend will continue to afflict, and particularly, of course, with the major towns of the Western Cape all now commissioned to produce their own electricity. So the future is one of inevitable decline for Eskom and the growing plurality of power producers.
On migration to the Western Cape and the issues it poses
Demographic issues for the Western Cape – I’m not sure that it’s going to be a tremendous strain on the Western Cape. I think with the current rate of migration they need, for example, to build 20 new schools a year in order to cope with the children who are part of that migratory effect. You can see it already in the housing market down here. I mean, around where I live, there have been houses which have gone for more than the asking price because of gazump. And it’s clear that wealthy people from Gauteng are moving down and they’ve got money to spend. And that’s the effect. Now, of course, there are many very poor people coming down. What’s happening there is land invasions and people trying to extend Khayelitsha ever further. Khayelitsha is moving quite rapidly outwards. And unless something is done, it will finally envelop Stellenbosch. There has to be a plan about that because I don’t think either Cape Town or Stellenbosch wants that to happen. But that is a very real problem dealing with this rapid growth. But, as you say, once we get to a situation which is now probably only three or three and a half years away, with the Western Cape having their own electricity and the rest of the country not, it will be very difficult. I mean, there will be this huge flood of people to where everything works. And I don’t think that can be prevented.
On Rob Hersov’s latest comments about exploiting gas to address the electricity crisis
The point is that what’s really stopping the exploitation of that resource is the fact that the government’s proposals on this were so out of kilter with the market that they basically said that the state will have immediately a 20% share without putting any money in at all. And they will have an option to take a much larger and possibly majority share later on, if they wish. Now, no wonder the big oil companies are holding off. Those are not terms on which they’re willing to put billions into exploration. They don’t face those sorts of demands anywhere else in the world. And where they have faith and they like it, they just go away. So while they don’t have security over the fact that if they put the money in, at least they’ll have at least 51% control, they won’t do it. So that’s really what’s holding it back, rather than opposition from greens, I think. And the opposition from greens has some important points to it which ought to be noted. But I think that can be, you know, it’s been accommodated everywhere else and I’m sure it can be here too. But exploiting the shale gas or whatever in the Karoo I think is a different question because, you know, that sort of exploitation in America involves pumping huge amounts of water down into the ground in order to force up the gas. So now where on earth in the Karoo are you going to get that water? And secondly, you know, if you have got fresh water, you really don’t need a water scarce country like South Africa wasting it on pumping it there? And secondly, if you end up getting saltwater from the sea and piping it there, do you really want to be pumping salt water under the ground in the Karoo? I mean, who knows what the effects of that would be on agriculture in the Karoo?. So I do think there are issues which are very different and, which I think have to be taken seriously.
On if a better future still awaits us
I’m still here. I have no plans to go anywhere else. But of course, in a way you can say, well, because of your age and it’s true, I’m not facing the labour market as a 21-year-old. And knowing enough people as I do, I know the difficulties they do face and you know, I take those seriously. They certainly have to. I do think that we are near the end of an era. It’s quite clear that ANC rule has failed completely and the whole African nationalist project has, I’m afraid, been rather a catastrophe for the country. It’s clear to everybody, including them, that this has failed and therefore, you know, it’s coming to an end one way or another. And I think that is hopeful, sure, we don’t know exactly what will replace it – it might be a coalition at first, but I think there will be pressure, as you rightly say, on race based legislation and so on. But we have to see how it’s going to go. But this long, difficult period in which impossible policies have been pursued obviously does have to come to an end. I think we are now in sight of that end.
- Premium: RW Johnson on policy dreams and disasters
- RW Johnson: The People shall govern. Or perhaps not.
- RW Johnson: The Killing of Chris Hani
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