Why should state-owned enterprises (SOEs) be placed under private ownership? The answer to that question, depending on who you ask, is either about state incompetence or ideological commitment to a “spectator state” that must only regulate and intervene in areas where there are market failures. Beyond this, the state must sit on the bench and watch private actors play.

For instance, a behemoth such as Eskom, on whose benevolence we rely to have the lights on, doesn’t need to explain why it should be saved. Dysfunctional traffic lights, candle-lit dinners and drumming generators are enough of an answer. However, dysfunction and crisis, and the panic it engenders, sometimes serves to obscure rather than reveal the potential of what we have. Governance failures notwithstanding...

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