SA hit its own ‘Desmond’; level 2 loadshedding and stage 2 lockdown this week

At British Universities, if you graduate with a lower second pass (2:2) in your degree, you’re said to have a ‘Desmond’, after our legendary living saint Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Here at home, a ‘Desmond’ is when the level of load shedding meets the stage of lockdown.

This week, South Africa hit its own ‘Desmond’; level 2 loadshedding and stage 2 lockdown. There aren’t terms to describe the other synchronicities such as level 3 and stage 3, because they don’t exist academically, in fact anything beyond that is a fail. Our ‘Desmond’ this week is starting to feel like a bit of a fail too, especially when it became a trifecta after the mercury dipped below 2 degC for the first time in Joburg this year. 

The problem is not the loadshedding on its own, or even the amended lockdown or even the winter. We’ve lived through them all before, sometimes in different permutations. The problem is deeper, it’s the fact that they are all happening together and that increasingly the City of Johannesburg is unable to restore power at the required time because something along the line, like a substation, blows. 

There is power, but you can’t get it. It’s the same with water. There’ll be a problem or scheduled maintenance and when that’s resolved and the water’s switched back on, one of the subsidiary pipes blows. We are on the cusp of a third wave of a global pandemic and we are one hospital down, because of an avoidable fire and now two feeder hospitals continually without water and unable to operate. 

The true tragedy is that this happened not because there was no money, but because the money was misspent, misallocated, not spent or just stolen. It’s a failure of leadership, when we need it most: Someone with a plan to fix it. 

This week Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi raced off at high speed to the latest privileged private school accused of racism. If only he could show the same alacrity when it comes to telling us what happened to the R431-million blown last year to clean empty classrooms in government schools paid to companies that had never owned a mop beforehand. 

The week before, Police Minister Bheki Cele had been shocked and angry that Zandspruit people didn’t trust the police and took the law into their own hands, glossing over the fact that last month’s necklacing was metastasised by the cancer of police indifference.

Behind the scenes, away from the clamour of sound bites and empty promises, the Gift of the Givers pulled up outside Rahima Moosa with their trucks and engineers – to drill a borehole so that the hospital can have its own water. It’s a pity, as Dr Zweli Mkhize ducks, dives and denies the mounting dossier of tenderpreneurism against him, that we couldn’t entrust the vaccine rollout to Dr Imtiaz Sooliman. 

Maybe that’s what university graduates should call their degrees when they pass – and pass well – against insurmountable odds, as so many do in our country. Forget going for a ‘Desmond’, try for an ‘Imtiaz’ instead. 

Companies will be falling over themselves to hire you.

Originally published on 5 June 2021 by the Saturday Star.