The Jacob Marley column: Shedding the albatross

September 19th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize



The more things change, the more they stay the same. I was cast into a melancholy frame of mind recently about my contemporary friend Sam Coleridge, a dreamy kind of fellow, who was given to devising fanciful rhymes about many things.


He is celebrated for his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which many of us may recall from long past (and hazy) school days.

Alas, in modern days, that is no longer the case and we may regret that because it may force us to relive the past in an unpleasant way. If we diligently learn the lessons of history and poetry, it might still save us a lot of trouble (not to mention the expense, as my old partner Ebenhaeser Scrooge used to remark).

I beg your indulgence for reminiscing back to a day in 2001 (a long time ago in many people’s minds) when Parliament passed, without much of a murmur (or media hype, as I believed it’s called today), taking a (then) world-class asset called Eskom away from its owners (the electricity customers) and passing it onto a nameless, faceless entity called “government”.

It was reminiscent of my friend Samuel Taylor’s first lines of his famous Rime, which would have gone something like this if he were talking about that incident in poetical terms:

The law was cheered as it was passed, with narily a nay
Who is to know, below the ken, below the light of day?

The sun came up upon the left, out of the sea it came!
Higher and higher every day, ’till it became a bane.

(With due apologies to Sam, as he will understand). It did not quite go like that, but it ought to suffice to set the tone. As was foretold, more or less like in Sam’s Rime, the honeymoon did not last:

And then the storm-blasts came, tyrannical and strong:
They struck with o’ertaking wings, and chased us forth along.

Shedding load and hiking prices, nor any light to see.
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea.

Even worse, as the weary years progressed, roaming the waters everywhere (but not drinking, bearing the Rime in mind). It only got worse:

To celebrate deliverance, about our necks an albatross was hung!
A thousand thousand slimy things lived on; but our songs not sung.

We looked upon the rotting sea, and drew our eyes away;
We looked upon the rotting debt, and there the dead men lay.

And what an albatross! A huge plucked bird, shedding load like feathers and accumulating debt like flies. A moulting old bird stripped of its ability to retain its wings, its very claws, the price ever soaring, wasted in trying to put a bit of gloss back on. And the carrion strippers are circling overhead.

Our floundering hulk needs to be bailed out as the wasted crew are unable to keep the ship afloat. It can no longer post a lookout to warn of hazards, it has no captain to provide a vision. The deck is rotting away, the lifeboats lost in the storm. Who dares say that Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a raving lunatic? Who could not identify with the Ancient Mariner? It is time to come up with a clever idea:

Quoth we, “We hath a penance done and penance more will do,
Unless the Albatross is shed, and sinks like lead into the sea.”

So to build on this, Sir, here is a simple thought: to save the ship, give back the stolen goods. Let us devise a mantra to be chanted in the streets and in the hallowed halls of the mighty: “Shed the albatross! Shed the albatross! Give it back to whom it once belonged!”

The solution the Rime inspires, Sir, is to return Eskom to its rightful owners: the users of electricity. Sell it off, piece by piece, at fair book value to the mines, and industry, the businesses, the farmers and all the users that once owned it. Get rid of its burden of debt, hire a fresh crew, put a competent pilot on the bridge, bail it out and allow the owners to find ways to fund it and pay for it.

For then, according to Samuel (and he may well have the best solution devised in two hundred years), the mistake might yet be rectified:

“Yea, the ripples may reach our ship, it’s true; but then will do much good;
It will shrieve our souls, and wash away the albatross’s blood.”

And until the chant  – “Shed the albatross!” – reverberates across the land

I remain, Sir, with sincere apologies to Sam Coleridge,

Your humble and obedient servant

Jacob Marley


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