Eskom inquiry: So what?

The Eskom inquiry has finally put into practice the theory that Parliament’s role is to hold the executive to account.

It was a Sunday in 2014 when the Majuba power station’s coal silo collapsed and Eskom was forced to implement its harsh load shedding policy once again. Everyone remembers that day.

For a group of friends preparing a festive lunch, it was the uncooked roast chicken that turned our faces sour. Suddenly, our lives were all about load shedding schedules and mocking Eskom for ruining our lives.

That coal silo gave me direction at Fin24. From 2014 onwards, the focus was on Eskom and the electricity crisis that was unfolding in South Africa.

We met Brian Molefe, Matshela Koko, Ben Ngubane, Lynne Brown and the Guptas (disclaimer: I have not met the Guptas and I have not visited Saxonwold).

We learnt about Trillian, Tegeta, Oakbay, McKinsey, Optimum and the Bank of Baroda – companies that formed such integral links to the mystery that was state capture.

We had the investigations and we had the leaks of those investigations (because they were never released on time). We had the former public protector’s State of Capture report. We had the #GuptaLeaks.

We watched in horror as Carte Blanche told us that we were in danger. We turned the radio up when the latest bulletin blared out another shocking detail. We read the business section of the newspapers instead of the scandals on page 3. And we had news apps sending us push alerts more often than we would have liked.

Absent: the police and prosecuting authorities

Through it all, the police and prosecuting authorities seemed critically absent. They were accused of being muzzled by a president who was allegedly so intricately linked to the entire ordeal of state capture.

So when Parliament – the house of madam speakers and honourable (and, at times, raucous) members – decided it was time to launch an inquiry, everyone thought: so what?

So what? Indeed.

This was no ordinary Parliamentary inquiry. The committee members were not trying to protect anyone’s interests; they were trying to protect their fellow citizens’ interests.

For parliamentarians that were honoured enough to be a part of the inquiry, it appeared to be the first time that the esteemed institution was doing its job effectively.

For once, Parliament was holding the executive to account. Some parliamentarians believed this was the first time the institution had truly turned the theory into practice. It was a historic and landmark event, they believed.

Those accused of wrongdoing in this inquiry have been given a chance to present their side of the story, but their testimonies will not be the same as their normal engagements with Parliament.

Forced to emerge from their bubbles

For once, they will have to emerge from their bubble, because they will no longer be immune to the ignorance of the public. The public now knows. And the public wants answers. Excuses and fake-news narratives will not hold.

The inquiry will likely see a report tabled and debated in the National Assembly before the end of this month. Closure. But also a new beginning.

Socially, it has stimulated public awareness for citizens to protest against signs of state looting and corruption.

Politically, it has enlightened many members of the ruling party, the African National Congress. That the report will come out a few weeks before the ANC elective conference is a positive but unintended consequence, but one which may have dramatic consequences in the leadership race.

It also puts pressure on the law enforcement agencies to act. It puts pressure on the executive led by President Jacob Zuma to take Parliament and the public more seriously. And it puts pressure on criminals to think twice before raiding state coffers.

If this is the beginning of a new chapter in South Africa, expect a bumpy ride. It will now be even more of a challenge for the country to regain its dignity and pride as a nation, with opportunity to create inclusive growth.

It requires leadership, sacrifice and determination. With the inquiry, we see those qualities.


This article was first published by Fin24 and is republished here with permission.

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