Load shedding: a structural evil that cries out to God

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by Russell Pollitt SJ (Jesuit Institute)

Loadshedding stage 6 has caused much stress in South Africa this week. Every facet of life is affected negatively. Ongoing blackouts wreck the economy (estimates are that the loss is R10 billion a day) and impact education and health care. It is not an exaggeration to say that people’s lives are at risk when the power to critical services is cut. It also creates psychological stress.

There is another loss we must acknowledge: the loss of truth. A decade of load shedding has taught us a hard lesson; those in key leadership positions in our country are dishonest. They lie.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been on record numerous times, telling us that the problem is being solved. So has Eskom CEO, Andre de Ryter. It is not. They make promises they cannot keep, or, quite frankly, they are lying. Don’t promise what you cannot deliver.

The quality of life is deteriorating for the average South African without power or running water (because pumps have no power). Instead of ensuring that people who previously had no running water or energy get these essential services, fewer people have a daily supply.  

Last weekend I was in Soweto for Sunday Mass. There was no power the whole morning – it came on briefly for about 40 minutes. People had been without power and water for most of the night. This week I am in Limpopo, and it is the same story; more hours of the day are “powerless” than powered.

People of faith turn to God, asking for mercy for sin. It is the first thing we do when we gather for liturgy. We talk about venial sin and mortal sin, sins of commission and omission.

Sin takes on many forms. We often focus on personal sin –  narrowly, sexual sin. Is it not time that we publicly call what is happening in our country for what it is: serious (mortal) sin?

There have been accusations of sabotage of the Eskom grid in the last few days. If so, this is mortally sinful as people’s lives are at risk. But unfortunately, the instruments of government cannot protect infrastructure because they have been hollowed out by politicians who, for decades, have played egoistic power games for their gain.

The Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, has obscured, blocked, stalled and prevented workable solutions. The country’s Deputy President, David Mabuza – known more by name and reputation than actual presence – is supposedly in charge of the energy crisis. Yet, we never hear from him (or see him) when there is a crisis.

This is mortally sinful; it is the face of evil. It is structural sin. It is a form of possession. It cries out before God for justice.

We are presently reading the Prophet Amos on Sundays. Amos was the great prophet of social justice. Amos calls out evil. He uses harsh words addressing the leadership of Israel, who are literally taking the country into a massive disaster because of their sin. He tells them that they will be punished. Amos is not politically correct. He also calls out those who are complacent or complain but do nothing.

The Church has a vital role in calling out the evil that afflicts us. The bishops already spoke out. But we need to come together and go beyond words. How can we form people so that they can discern lies from the truth on various media platforms? In what ways does Catholic Social Teaching give us instruments to act? For example, might we begin to run voter education programmes that focus not on party politics but on the best way to uphold the common good? How can ecumenical groups work together to act against our increasingly imminent demise?

If we, as a community of faith, do not act now to end the evils that afflict our nation, we, too, are guilty of being complicit. Complicit in serious structural sin.

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