We need a plan, not more dreams

26 June 2019 - 11:54
By Ryan Ravens
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: Esa Alexander President Cyril Ramaphosa

SA has always been a nation of dreamers. We dreamed of freedom from oppression under apartheid and achieved that peacefully, thanks to Madiba.

We dreamed of an African renaissance and rapid economic growth under President Thabo Mbeki and achieved the latter, albeit shortlived.

During Jacob Zuma's term, we mostly dreamed of a better president and eventually achieved that as well.

Now we're being asked to dream again - dreams of new smart cities with bullet trains and jobs for everyone.

There can be no denying the power of dreams and it's been said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. But a dream doesn't become reality through magic - it takes hard work, determination and the ability to take tough decisions.

What SA desperately needs is a plan, not another dream. It was this plan with clearly articulated actions and much-needed tough decisions that we had hoped for with President Cyril Ramaphosa's latest State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Sadly, it was not to be, and we are once again left to ponder yet another aspirational list of priorities and goals.

While these priorities and goals are certainly admirable, we have no hope of achieving them unless some very hard decisions are taken and followed up with decisive action.

Most conspicuous in its absence was a plan to fix Eskom and ensure energy security. President Ramaphosa's previous Sona indicated a clear intention to immediately start the process of unbundling Eskom, seen as a very positive step toward opening up our energy sector for private investment.

This stance seems to have softened considerably and the announcement that government's financial support for this failed state-owned enterprise would be intensified in the short term is unfortunate, to say the least.

Throwing more money at Eskom just to keep it alive will not solve the problem.

Decisive action is urgently required to massively reduce the number of employees at Eskom, but it seems we're being held to ransom by unions who threaten to wreak havoc unless their members are protected.

Even tougher decisions will be required around the continuous use of coal.

President Ramaphosa acknowledged the rapid technological change that is reshaping the global economy, as well as the threat of climate change, yet we're seemingly unable to connect the dots and apply that understanding to how we should deal with Eskom.

Renewable energy technologies have evolved exponentially, to the point where solar and wind power is now cheaper to produce than coal-powered energy - assuming the coal-powered stations are built with maximum efficiency.

In instances like Medupi and Kusile power stations, which are plagued by corruption and poor design, coal power costs multiples of what we could have achieved with renewables.

That's before we even begin thinking about the cost of carbon emissions resulting from this dirty energy. Smarter nations have already begun the process of dismantling perfectly good, operational coal-powered stations in order to replace those with renewables, as the long-term business case for that is undeniable.

We need to radically transform our thinking around matters like this before we can ever hope to achieve radical economic transformation.

The principal challenge with respect to growing our economy is that we do not have a clear vision of where we want to go and what we have to offer in order to get there.

We can continue developing strategies, priorities and ambitious goals until our country completely collapses, or we can take decisive action to chart a particular course and stick to it. More lists of priorities and goals are pointless.

*Ravens is Accelerate Cape Town CEO