In the closing weeks of 2019, South Africa reached Stage 6 load-shedding. This is uncharted territory, so let’s unpack it a little.

Some years ago I wrote about a startling fact that few were interested in at that time. That simple fact was that Eskom, our national energy utility company, was running on standby generators.

Nobody responded, so I shut up and moved on, but I never stopped thinking about this simple startling fact. Why is our national power utility running on standby generators?

The answer is complex, but one element of that answer is diesel fuel. You see, a lucrative contract was given to a politically connected person to supply diesel. That diesel wasn’t the cheapest, because the supplier wasn’t the manufacturer of the diesel, but bought it from a real diesel supplier that wasn’t allowed to enter the game because of the rules of that game.

That game is called Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and it has de-industrialised a country that once produced 40% of all the gold ever mined in all of recorded history, from the Incas to modernity. That country once pioneered the production of oil from coal. That country once pioneered the first human heart transplant and gave us the first base-bleed artillery capable of firing a tactical nuclear weapon. That country pioneered water treatment technologies that recovered safe drinking water from sewage and it produced sophisticated steels used in highly specialised engineering processes. The list goes on, but you get the point.

South Africa used to punch above its weight and was a genuine participant in the global economy. We produced things of value. Sophisticated things. Technologically advanced things.

Then came BEE, and it changed the rules of the game by skewing the playing field in favour of those whose only attribute was that they were politically connected. It actively discriminated against anyone who was creative and nimble in the field of science, engineering and technology.

It incentivised the out-migration of those people merely because the rules of the game deliberately discriminated against excellence, and rewarded those whose sole attribute was their ability to extract money without creating value. This is called rent-seeking behaviour.

The sale of diesel to run the standby generators in the national energy utility enables the extraction of money, but it creates no enduring value, so it is inherently parasitic. It is a textbook example of rent-seeking behaviour.

Any organism infested with parasites slowly succumbs to their voracious presence and eventually that organism becomes so sick that it dies a miserable, lingering death.

The collapse of Eskom is imminent for all the reasons noted above. It is deeply infested with parasites extracting money without creating value. It is unsustainable for the same reasons that SAA has collapsed. It too had the game being played about the supply of fuel at inflated cost. But it also had the other games – supplying toothpicks, serviettes, cookies, butter and buns, all at inflated cost. It too has separated the right of remuneration from the responsibility of productivity.

South Africa no longer produces anything of value to the world. The mining industry has collapsed, leaving a toxic landscape of hazardous waste that will poison society for the next century. Denel, which once played at global level in the field of sophisticated weapons systems, is collapsing after the theft of the intellectual property that used to fuel its engine.

We have become a society that creates, rewards and protects thieves, parasitic, ambitious and greedy thieves with an insatiable lust for money, and an aversion to honest work and creativity.

South Africa is that poor animal infested by parasites which is now emaciated and sick, not yet dead, but feeble and suffering. It will die, for that is inevitable, but, before that, a predictable series of things will happen. Those things are inevitable, logical and therefore predictable.

I have seen them before first-hand when other parasite-infested countries died. I saw it in the Romanian revolution that overthrew the tyranny of Nicolae Ceausescu. I saw it in the Leipzig Option that created rolling mass action to depose Erich Honecker in East Germany. I saw it in the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia. In all of these cases, revolution deposed the parasitic class that had been extracting money, earned by the sweat of the people, without creating value for the nation.

I also saw it in the lingering demise of Robert Mugabe, who destroyed a proud nation because of his ruthless control over the extraction of money without the creation of value.

This is what I believe the inevitable implosion of Eskom, SAA, PRASA and other state-owned enterprises is all about. We are witnessing the death of a destructive system – BEE – that has sucked the life blood from a once vibrant economy, and replaced it with a new breed of oppressor, that preys on the poor and vulnerable in society whom they once claimed to have liberated.

The oppressed has become the oppressor, and technological advancement is no longer possible as we enter the New Sanitation Dark Age, where raw sewage flows freely in many towns and cities of South Africa, and where pumps have ground to a halt because electricity production has been compromised by a class of parasite that is encouraged to supply diesel at inflated value, but is protected because of patronage.

This article was originally published on Dr. Turton’s FaceBook page on 10 December 2019

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

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Anthony Turton
Dr Anthony Turton is Professor at the Centre for Environmental Management, University of Free State; Africa editor of Water Policy, the official journal of the World Water Council; a director of Janigraph (Pty) Ltd and of Nanodyn Systems (Pty) Ltd; a strategist for Water Shortage South Africa NPC; and the founding member of South African Water Chamber (NPC). He is a recipient of the Nick Steele Memorial Award (South African Environmentalist of the Year) 2010; the Green Globe Award (Environmental Activist of the Year) 2012; and the WESSA Award (Lifetime Conservation Achiever) 2016.


  1. Thank you for a superb and sobering read Mr Turton. I wonder when our government is going to realise the damage they have done to this country. Or if they even care.

  2. Blaming everything on BEE, is a wrong mindset which continues to destroy our beautiful country. My 2 cent is that fear and anger continue to destroy this country the whites have fear of losing and the black have anger that we have suffered. Image this, creating trust issue between the black and white meanwhile we expect them to co-exist and build the nation which is know to be for everyone who leave in it either black or white. Both will forever try to protect themselves against themselves, I’m an engineer by Profession and I have seen what fear has done to white senior who will hide information and set-up a black guy for failure and I have seen black people who run the beautiful piece of technology to drain just because of anger.

    On the diesel Issue that should not be the issue of price because fuel is regulated and solid within acceptable prices as the same as manufacturer and Wholesalers. In South Africa we do not have accountability from white or black as our core value rather than the requirement for those occupying high office. BEE is a good initiative as the initiative to empower women because everyone knows about the previous injustice. The issue is with the ones currently in power of information and skills do not want to share and eskom problem is classic example of poor leadership without control and vision.

    • Khomotho, seems to me that the way empowerment has been practiced is the problem, and not the necessity for leveraged equal opportunities.
      I do not have the data to offer an objective answer, but I reckon that bee as practiced has destroyed value for all of us – even the 2% who have grown fat and flabby (all shades, and all sectors).
      South Africa ‘could have and should have’ been better off than it was 30 years ago; it is not, and it will not be in another 30 years if there is not a radical trend change – by all of us.
      It is not a race or colour thing at all – it is like gravity. We can deny it exists, we can tell each other we don’t care for it, we can ignore it – but it will splatter us on the floor of history.
      Unless we (citizens) stand for what is right in each and every matter, from small (not running stops, not littering) to large (respecting each other, not doing or taking bribes, doing our jobs properly, standing up for principles) this RSA project will end in a mess. It is gravity at work – some stuff is immediate, other takes longer.
      Also, accountability is meaningless if there is no consequence; and there isn’t any. It seems that taking responsibility and being accountable, and the consequences of failure are not well-connected.
      Perhaps this is the culture of collectivism – we’re all in it together, so we’re all responsible but nobody is accountable. So, we know what happens if a parent tells their child 101 times ‘don’t do that’ and there is no consequence. We see this all over.
      Our systems are broken. Systems are a function of human construction – they do not come into existence independently of people. Those who seek to extract rents from the system have no desire to fix the broken system as that would deny them their feeding lot.
      I have not yet found the key that will unlock the apparent need for us (races, genders, etc) to exercise an ongoing guerrilla war with each other.
      Unless we start paddling this leaking canoe together we’re heading to the bottom, and it need not be so. As a kick I the pants, we’re bickering amongst each other while other countries wave as they sail past into their sunset.

    • BEE has moved South Africa away from being a merit-driven economy to an outcome-targeted economy.

      As is evident in all of the SOEs that are hopelessly under-performing and bankrupt, the ANC doesn’t care about how well those enterprises are being run because their target of black faces in the higher ranks (and filtering down) is visible.

      Just recently we have seen the state airline run into the ground over a number of years with the full blessings of the then-president. Even a stewardess had more airline experience than the person responsible.

      Countless institutions such as the SABC, Eskom, Transnet, Post Office, Denel, PRASA, Sasol, Sentech, SA Express, and PetroSA have all run into severe problems as a result of black faces being appointed to appease political agendas as opposed to sustaining and taking these organisations forward. Think of the self-esteemed Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Brian Molefe.

      Similarly, state services such as education, sanitation, policing, water treatment, and healthcare have all but collapsed.

      There are several towns that are chronically missing at least one of these services. Towns such as Cradock, Grahamstown (now renamed to “Makhanda”), Middelburg in Mpumalanga, (these are just 3 of several) have such incompetence and corruption in their town councils that they fail to pay utilities bills and the likes of Eskom disconnect those towns. In many cases, drinking water is no longer considered safe let alone the surrounding rivers that undoubtedly would be toxic.

      Not that the government cares. The typical sentiment with regards to building South Africa is reflected in the SoWeTo attitude – where it is the residents, as opposed to the council, who simply do not pay for utiltities. And not because they are unable to.

      This to the extent that the CEO of Eskom, Jabu Mabuza came out on several occasions – last as recently as November – pleading with SoWeTo specifically to pay for their electricity.

      The biggest problem that the ANC has created, is how to change the charity-entitlement mindset to one that has drive to build the state’s institutions back to what they were before the ANC took over.

    • Dear Khomotho

      Sadly your papering over the clear and obvious cracks just shows a level of denialism never seen before. The orgy of information and evidence on hand to debug the myth of the so called benefits of BEEE is overwhelming. Based on our current economic growth potential it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we can grow at 7 or 10 %. Instead of focusing on economic growth which would have benefited everyone ( which based on the population %’s would have favoured blacks almost 80 % of the time.) Thus based on a 25 year cycle we could have almost removed all forms of poverty. We have now a much bigger economic divide. Beee as a system has failed. It’s a failure of ideology, nothing to do with leadership. The social and moral costs of BEEE is immeasurable and we have a more fractured society than ever before. Young black children more radicalised and polarised than ever before being manipulated by populist regimes like the EFF is a far cry from what was meant. We are a country at war with itself so it baffles the mind as to why anyone can think this failed ideology has any place. It’s a fallacy to assume it works. Simply calling the sky red does not change the facts

  3. Excellent article dr.
    Maybe some further ideas around the topic of BEEE being nothing less than instutionalised -or legal- racism, could be interesting.

  4. Mr (Prof.) Bullard, you toss two rhetorical statements into a south easter…
    The answer is neither – realisation requires an appreciation of what is right, normal and objective; and care implies they have some sense of what they have wrought.
    Greed, patronage, unconsciousness, consumerism, and disrespect for the future, for science and the inevitability of consequence cannot produce anything other than what we bear witness to.
    And, might I add, the private sector has at best been an agnostic bystander, at worst a willing participant.
    Drivers are pretty much the same… greed, etc, and a lack of any backbone, courage and principle.
    Lastly, and of no value to we South Africans, we are not alone. The same sets of people occupy positions of leverage across the globe – from Israel to Lebanon, USA, Brazil, Iraq, India, Pakistan… endless.
    The gorged chickens will continue to cluck their way home in 2020.
    We’ll probably be happy to have 2019 back…

  5. As one who has spent some 52 years in the SA oil industry I can advise you the Eskom diesel price issue is simple. The diesel supplier is one of the main oil companies. They sell the diesel to the middle man at the government regulated price who merely adds a 25% margin without ANY input issues such as storage & handling. The fuel supplied to the standby generators at the junction of the N1 and N7 in Cape Town came directly by underground piping from the Caltex refinery. These standby gen sets are fuel guzzlers of note!! All that was required was for the monthly reading to be taken displayed on the flow meter and for the middle man to send Eskom the invoice and for the parasites to share the spoils which probably continues to this day.

  6. I have heard some time ago that the Eskom budget for diesel for last year was around R500 million. Apparently, by around October last year, they have spent in excess of R10 billion on diesel costs.
    I am no expert, but my understanding is that using diesel is always deemed to be a last resort when it comes to fueling power plants because of the huge expense compared to using coal (which the power stations are designed for).
    If this information is correct it ties in with this article wrt the greed and corruption which is endemic in the system.

  7. Let’s not forget WHY all this diesel is being used. BEE contracts for overpriced coal delivered in trucks destroying our roads is delivering rubbish coal, which breaks the generators in the power stations.


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