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No place to hide

If Woolies was your plan for the zombie apocalypse, think again 

South Africans may have taken comfort in the thought that if a zombie apocalypse ever happened in the style of legendary film-maker George A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, they could seek refuge in a mall and hold off any flesh-eating monsters. Well, at least for a while.

If they were really fortunate, they would be able to hole themselves up in a comfortable, if slightly chilly, Woolworths where the power never goes off, the food is always good and the “cold chain” is never broken.

Wrong! Thanks to Eskom and the government’s inability to find solutions to the country’s energy crisis, even blue-chip retailers such as Woolies are finding it difficult to keep the lights on. This is especially the case when load shedding reaches stages five and six, and companies must scramble to keep their operations going without power for up to six hours a day.

This week, people took to social media to voice concerns about the impact of load shedding on their favourite Woolies.

Fridges at the flagship Woolworths store in Somerset West’s Waterstone Village were out for two days – leaving the store without meat, frozen goods or cheeses, one shopper complained.

Another was alarmed by the two-day closure of Woolworths in the Mall of Rosebank due to a generator failure. “They’d better get this Woolies in Rosebank up and running again or we’ll have those ‘Zuma must go’ grannies out in full force again,” he cautioned. Another warned: “Society will disintegrate without Woolies”.

Despite the intensive load shedding, it’s astounding and must be acknowledged that retailers continue to report strong growth.

In a trading update for the 26 weeks to December 25, Woolworths said load shedding was causing considerable disruption and having a pronounced impact on its “predominantly fresh business in terms of foregone sales, and increased waste”. Yet even with these difficulties the group’s food business grew sales by 8.6% in the last six weeks of that reporting period, just as load shedding reached record levels.

This week when it released a stellar trading update for its first half, grocery giant Shoprite reported it had to spend more than half a billion rand on diesel to keep the lights on. Yet even with these difficulties the company delivered double-digit first-half sales growth.

If load shedding is hitting the big retailers like Woolworths and Shoprite hard, the impact on smaller ones is unimaginable and it’s likely that many will be crippled and never recover.

Meanwhile, the only new answer from government in recent weeks to deal with the escalating crisis is a suggestion from President Cyril Ramaphosa that a state of disaster be declared.

What new horrors this could bring, one can only imagine. Flashbacks of Ebrahim Patel, minister of trade, industry and competition, banning the sale of open-toed shoes during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic spring to mind. What ridiculous outcomes will we see this time around? Banning rotisserie chickens to save electricity?

The government seems to be fresh out of ideas. Private sector expertise, which has created so many South African corporate champions, should be brought on board as a matter of urgency to turn the ship around.

Recently, legendary former Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson who helped build the company into the retail juggernaut it is today, offered to help fix South Africa. For no pay. Yet, nary a whisper has come from government about this offer. It should be falling over itself to accept free help from top business-people who clearly know what they are doing.

And if Basson is willing to help, there must be other top CEOs who could come on board to turn the situation around. This must be done as a matter of urgency. Something has got to give.

What will a state of disaster do for a disastrous state?

More power of course, but probably not where it’s needed

In the 1984 film Ghostbusters, the character Dr Raymond Stantz, with the serious earnestness of a comedic straight man, said: “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”

The comment, of course, was at the expense of academia, which can offer cushy and secure safe spaces for the tenured. But SA politicians and bureaucrats are often also pretty immune, in political and bureaucratic terms, from the consequences of their failures too. Remember Bathabile Dlamini? You are lucky if you don’t.

But years of the lights going out, and food prices going up, can be pretty bad electorally. Soon the patronage networks may need to be divvied up between political parties, rather than just within them. Action must be taken.

So, the solution to SA’s power crisis? More power of course, for politicians and bureaucrats. Why not declare a state of disaster – that way you can just ignore that red tape, while keeping it, and funnel more funds where needed. Government is in control, the statists will be kept happy, and patronage networks won’t be eroded by any pesky individualistic capitalism (at least the legal kind). That’s inevitably on its way out (at some point) anyway.

But if anyone expects the government to see the irony of declaring a “state of disaster” to do statist things to fix state-caused problems, don’t hold your breath. Also don’t expect ideologues to suddenly realise that giving South Africans power over their own power, say selling excess power from their homes to Eskom, may be a way out of a power crisis.

Because irony is a bit like hypocrisy when it comes to politics. With the ugliest politicians and the noisiest activists, there is simply no point calling them hypocrites when they clearly are, expecting self-awareness and logic to do its job. They and their supporters know they are hypocrites, and simply don’t care about logic when it doesn’t suit them. It’s a power game.

Schadenfreude of the day

Graph of the day

Number of the day

205 million

Number of paying subscribers to the music streaming giant Spotify. The company suffered a net loss of 430 million euros (R8 billion) for the year.


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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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