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An ode to Eskom

Author: Nthele Motsepe

Only two paths lay before us. The easier but self-defeating of the two is to climb the highest mountain and curse Eskom for plunging us into darkness.

The harder but more sensible path is to travel back to the 70s, a time when electricity was a rumour for us township and village dwellers.

The latter choice, which Eskom secretly craves but lacks the guts to say so, involves dusting off those paraffin lanterns and coal-fired stoves.

In this image, taken in my late grandfather’s house at Mpho Section, Tembisa, I am basking in the warmth of a coal-fired Dover stove with my mother, my little sister and my late sister (RIP Kgabo Mokgatla).

On this occasion, my mom cooked four big pots, baked the best of dikgaragana and dumpling, and boiled enough bathing water for the entire family while keeping the whole house warm – all at once – and still ensured that my dad had enough water to bath too after a long day at work.

Pitch black men came by to deliver coal stacks either on horse-drawn wagons or old greasy truck.

This was the only time I ever heard my mother speak in isiZulu. “One bag amakhulu ne one bag amancane,” I would hear her yell to the coalmen under the roaring sound of a sky-blue Dyna truck.

Children played without any care in the world – mostly with sand as demonstrated on my little innocent face. There was no TV and yet we were happier than children of today.

On certain days, a white minibus came by to give a litre of milk and a few slices of peanut butter-laced bread to each household.

I was too young and too carefree to know whether this was an apartheid government feeding scheme or some philanthropic NGO. All I know is that peanut butter sandwich doesn’t take as lip-smacking as it did then.  

At dusk, as mothers prepared dinner, coal smoke from hundreds stove chimneys filled the air – casting haziness over the entire neighbourhood.

It was out of this haziness that our fathers emerged from work. Some days they brought us sweets, other days they had red meat wrapped in a khaki paper, but most days they only had a newspaper tugged under their armpits. 

In my estimation, and bar for the apartheid monster, those were the best days of our lives – worthy of embracing and re-living if we want to play our collective role as patriots in giving some much-needed respite for Eskom to recover from Jacob Zuma’s years of misrule and ruinous legacy, but most of all, spare ourselves unnecessary heartaches and headaches.

For our own sanity, let us treat this beautiful and terrible power utility some stoicism and pretend that we are still living in the dark past.

Let us thank Eskom for gifting us an opportunity to treat our children to those moonlit nights when we played black mampatile with our cousins and neighbours. Let us be thankful that our children’s eyes are off gadgets while this beloved and hated power generator is recovering.

Perhaps we should all be like Heather Headley and collectively sing her song ‘I wish I wasn’t’:

“I wish I wasn’t in love with you (Eskom) so you couldn’t hurt me… I wish I could go back to the days before we met and skip our regrets.

I’m home alone again…It’s getting pretty late. And you haven’t checked on me all day. When I called you didn’t answer. Now I’m feelin’ like you’re ignorin’ me. And I wish I could go back, to the day before we met. And skip my regret…” – Mukurukuru Media


Nthele Motsepe is a senior journalist and corporate communications specialist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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