CCS Events
CCS Libraries
About CCS
CCS Projects
CCS Highlights

Electricity crisis scenarios, 20 January

Electricity crisis scenarios - a muddle, a meltdown or a miracle?
Speaker: Patrick Bond
Date: Tuesday, 20 January 2015
Time: 12:30-14:00
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College, UKZN

Eskom is in the midst of its worst-ever crisis. But nearly all the voices addressing the prospect of interminable load-shedding represent the historic corporate or white beneficiaries of racial apartheid's electricity or the newly empowered. To be sure, expansion of deracialised electricity supply raised access levels from 35% to 85% of households over the past quarter century. However, countervailing inequities abound: the extraordinary recent price increases mainly felt by poor people; the low ampere levels of service offered in ghettoes; the state's failure, still, to supply 15% of people who reside in shack settlements and rural areas; the imposition of pre-payment meters in black (not white) neighbourhoods; and a tokenistic subsidy (50 kWh/hh/month of 'Free Basic Electricity'), not to mention ongoing Special Pricing Agreements with the largest mining houses. These, together, have generated waves of popular protest, often capable of winning specific demands. But illegal connections and resulting electrocutions prevail in many sites, as do runaway fires in residential areas still not serviced with electricity. Trade unions, healthworkers and environmentalists have also protested Eskom. Workers strike over labour conditions at Eskom, including the Medupi power plant. Eskom's coal addiction (and resistance to renewable energy) and resulting climate change and local ecological devastation attract critique on grounds of ecology and mercury poisoning. In one campaigning case, coal extraction from the villages of Somkhele and Fuleni on the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park border - some destined for Eskom boilers and some for Europe, India and China - reflects the need for well-planned but increasingly urgent shifts in energy politics. Many such micro-struggles and the emergence of a United Front linking Eskom's metalworkers and its consumers provide a sense of the potential for addressing these problems with multifaceted arguments and coalitions from below.

Bond directs CCS and recently authored two books, South Africa - The Present as History (Johannesburg, Jacana Press, 2014, co-authored with John Saul) and Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (third edition, 2014, London, Pluto Press).

Eskom: A muddle, a meltdown or a miracle?

Likely, worst-case, and best-case scenarios for load-shedded South Africa in 2015
By Patrick Bond (short version appeared in Sunday Tribune, 18 January 2015)

“The metaphor of a car is very useful,” remarked Eskom’s chief executive Tshediso Matona, whom a reporter described as ‘visibly nervous’ at a press conference on Thursday. Matona bitterly denounced the unroadworthy vehicle he was hired to drive just three months ago, apparently having only learnt then of its terribly inadequate maintenance.

As skorokoro-Eskom careens out of control, the coming fork in the road provides three distinct directions. The poorly-lit one straight ahead suffers irregular potholes that force stop-start-reverse maneuvers, but often too late, resulting in quite extreme vehicular damage. As the political drivers and suffering passengers alike shout insults, Eskom’s maak-‘n-plan band-aids offer little relief.

The most scary route away from this fork lacks streetlights and appears to be illuminated only by a brief fiery meltdown – utter grid failure – at the end of the road. Then, no Eskom or municipal electricity supplies will be available for weeks, they say.

In a third direction, looking leftwards, a light flickers at the end of a dangerous tunnel, but to get there safely means slowing the vehicle to a manageable pace and tossing the greediest 1% of passengers out, thus allowing everyone else to at least enjoy basic-needs electricity.

When originally built, this car had the capacity to run quickly – with 43 000 MegaWatts of installed peak power – but for the next months and probably years, only 70% is available for use. As a result, travel on the status quo road will become ever more chaotic as competition rises for declining electricity supplies.

Delays in promised new supplies will continue indefinitely, what with the huge coal-fired plant named Medupi – “rain that soaks parched lands, giving prosperity” (sic) – not properly tested as anticipated last month (uh oh!), and what with the Kusile plant’s debut just set back another full year, to mid-2017. These plants are beginning to look like hideous R250 billion paperweights.

Making excuses for muddling through
We reached this juncture, driver Number One keeps saying, because there are many more passengers (about 50% of all households) aboard than what Eskom’s decades-old apartheid bus originally catered for. In reality, many of the new back-seat riders are so poor and ill-served – many getting just 10 amperes, a supply inadequate for powering more than two main appliances at a time, in contrast to apartheid’s 60-amp household installations – that 11 million black families together consume less than does one Australian-owned aluminium firm.

Just as disturbingly, driver Number Two sees Eskom as a ‘glorious company’ (his eyes probably need checking before he’s allowed behind the wheel). By 2014, Eskom and municipalities were meant to have supplied 97% of households, but the deadline was just extended by a full decade as more than five million South Africans suffer with no connection.

Meanwhile, Eskom’s Matona attributes “the unreliability of our equipment” to his predecessors: “The only problem is that Eskom has not stayed faithful to that maintenance religion.” This, he explained, was caused by populist electioneering by the ruling party and, as well, “the World Cup played a big role.”

It’s an all-too-easy target, because the whole world loves to hate Sepp Blatter. The long World Cup diversion in 2010 and state mandate to keep the lights on at all costs crashed Eskom’s maintenance schedule, says Matona (similarly, millions of Brazilians protested against Blatter’s impact on urban public transport and much else before the 2014 World Cup).

Eskom also sponsors cheesy adverts implicitly blaming middle-class consumers for our hedonistic lifestyles. Sure that’s valid enough, but what a hypocritical, poorly executed PR campaign. Especially when it comes within a week of Eskom canceling its subsidy for the solar geysers which we should all be installing to lessen the load; even in wealthy households, the geysers are responsible for a third of our consumption.

According to Eskom (when it wasn’t in such a penny-pinching mood), passive-solar geysers should comprise 23% of the country’s anticipated 10 000 MW renewable energy contribution. Even more would ideally come from photovoltaic (PV) electricity that can be fed back to the grid. Yet of 12.8 million electrified households today, only 68 000 now get a simple basic Eskom PV system (not strong enough to cook, heat, iron or refrigerate with).

The most common populist targets for blame are households who steal electricity, numbering probably more than a half-million. From 2010, Eskom’s national Operation Khanyisa has aimed to collect payments currently short-circuited by illegal connections. Strenuous credit control led to R243 million in recoveries by early 2014, but R200 million were “from the large power-user sector”, according to Eskom, while 77 000 disconnections yielded just R43 million, with 112 arrests and 60 court cases – after 2.35 million connections were checked. So the problem really isn’t the little guy.

Eskom’s own blame game already reached its depths back in 2006 when after a Koeberg shutdown that blacked out Cape Town and lost the ANC the city and province, the apparently inebriated political driver at the time, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, cried “sabotage is everywhere,” and then backtracked, claiming he hadn’t specifically referred to the nuclear station’s notorious loose bolt.

Other drivers in the Finance Ministry, cheered on by most of big business, attribute Eskom’s problems to its political overlords’ unwillingness to upgrade the vehicle via either privatisation (at higher costs to consumers) or Independent Power Producer outsourcing of new generating plants.

Within corporate South Africa, the 31-member Energy Intensive Users’ Group (EIUG) comprises most of the mining houses and smelters customers and consumes 44% of the country’s electricity. It’s at the core of what academics term the ‘Minerals Energy Complex’, and its leaders were the main authors of the state energy policy in 2010. Their outlandish power dates to the founding of Eskom 91 years ago so that gold mines could pool electricity for greater profit than the prior system of self-supply.

Three of Eskom’s most pampered passengers are probably getting motion sickness, because their own deal-making prowess since the early 1990s is a major cause of the vehicle’s unreliability, and they know it. Two are amongst the world’s largest mining houses, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, and by hook or by crook (and there were many crooks indeed), ‘Special Pricing Agreements’ gave them vast amounts of Eskom’s output (at one point BHP Billiton chowed 10% of Eskom’s power at any given moment, to zap imported bauxite in its three big aluminium smelters).

The third nauseous passenger must be the African National Congress fundraising company, Chancellor House. Its officials probably rue the day they bought into Hitachi and then not-so-innocently won a tender – thanks to what the SA Public Protector deemed ‘improper conduct’ by then Eskom chairperson Valli Moosa, also on the ANC Finance Committee – to supply R38.5 billion worth of vital boilers for two coal-fired powerplants, Medupi and Kusile.

The ANC led the fight against apartheid and still wins elections handily, so society should give them due credit. But boiler-making is clearly not an ANC skill, so after hundreds of Hitachi design changes and after 7000 welds were done badly, repairs to Medupi caused two years of delays. And another incompetent Eskom multinational corporate contractor, Paris-based Alstom, provided Medupi and Kusile with faulty software, so the firm was fired and replaced by Siemens. More delays.

Ironically, the most angry passengers in the back include furious trade unionists and township residents who are ANC members but who have been paying extreme price increases annually – more than 150% cumulatively since 2007 – while experiencing degenerating service.

One green passenger, Earthlife’s Dominique Doyle, blamed Eskom for emitting more CO2 than anyone else in Africa and hence contributing to more atmospheric moisture which causes more rain, which in turn made Eskom’s coal dust a useless soup last March, thus causing further emergency load-shedding. It’s a refreshingly valid argument in scientific terms, and unusual, in a society near the bottom of world rankings in climate awareness.

The ‘muddling through’ scenario entails Eskom bumbling along, as it has the past quarter century since major decisions were taken about what was then its overcapacity crisis. Instead of mothballing more of its climate-wrecking coal-fired power plants, Eskom attracted new BHP Billiton and Anglo smelters by offering massive rates discount, which still today mean huge firms get power at 1/8th what ordinary consumers pay.

Sometimes the mines and smelters agree to lower their demand, but the EIUG retains sufficient power that when, for example, on November 2 last year, Eskom’s Majuba coal silo crashed, causing a Stage 1 System Emergency, “National Load Shedding was implemented affecting municipal customers and Eskom residential customers” and not the mega-guzzlers, according to the EIUG. It was only days later that there was “curtailment from Key Industrial Customers on 12 November to assist Eskom in meeting demand requirements over the peak.”

That kind of power of priority should put the rest of society on alert: when electricity is scarce, the state and capital become mean, greedy and irrational. As the former director-general of local government, Chippy Olver, told the Mail&Guardian the first time cutting BHP Billiton’s (‘Alusaf’) ultra-cheap power was proposed, back in 1996, “If we increase the price of electricity to users like Alusaf, their products will become uncompetitive and that will affect our balance of payments.” (The quick rebuttal: then impose exchange controls to solve the latter problem, since in any case so much capital flight illegally evades SA taxes.)

Likewise in February 2008, as an early round of load-shedding crippled the economy, the chair of Standard Bank – Derek Cooper – suggested offhandedly to President Thabo Mbeki at a private crisis meeting that BHP Billiton’s Richard Bay smelter supply be temporarily cut since it provided just 1500 jobs and less than 0.5% of GDP. Cooper was punished (and ridiculed by smelting advocates) when from Melbourne, the arrogantly hapless Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers ordered an end to R2.4 billion in annual business with the bank.

‘Meltdown’ emanating from excessive mining and smelting
As a result of such ingrained EIUG stubbornness, the doomsday scenario is not impossible. Indeed Google provides 158 000 citations if you put the words ‘Eskom’ and ‘meltdown’ together, although most concern its finances, reputation and specific components, including Medupi due to its planners’ and financiers’ incompetent water-coolant projections and excessive hype about ‘supercritical’ dry-cooling.

Even World Bank president Jim Kim – formerly a leftist medic and academic, turned public relations shill – used his 2012 trip to justify a $3.75 billion loan by the Bank (its biggest ever) mainly for Medupi as a ‘clean coal’ project. In reality, a vast amount of water is required to wash dirt from filthy Waterberg range coal, a notorious constraint in such a dry area.

If Medupi crashes yet again before it starts up at least the local ecology will be saved a monster of a neighbour. In any case, the World Bank should be sued for Odious Debt resulting from lender liability on this project, and no further interest payments made.

But the bigger melt is what we all fear most: an out-of-control rolling black-out that prevents Eskom from turning its dozen main powerplants back on without the infamous ‘black start’ routine. Last June, the firm’s spokesperson Andrew Etzinger assured that that scenario would result in only a fortnight-long crisis, but not to worry, a good supply of diesel makes the black-start restart feasible at most power plants.

Providing relief from Etzinger’s persistent unfounded optimism, Eskom sustainability manager Steve Lennon confessed in August, “We would have to rely on our own black-start plant to start the system from scratch. We are not ready for that at all.”

There is a terrifying fictional precedent in which an entire advanced economy and society is hit by an indefinite ‘lights off!’ The US television series ‘Revolution’ is based on the premise that nanotechnology nerds can be influenced by asinine politicians as zany as Eskom management and Erwin. In the series plot, nanobots are let loose on the world, sucking up electricity sufficient to cause a 15-year blackout and social mayhem.

To make this meltdown scenario as realistic as possible, the United Nations collaborated with Revolution playwrights to dramatise properly the conditions faced by 1.3 billion people who still survive without electricity. Needless to say, just as on the Revolution set, a Hobbesian state of nature is the scenario South Africa faces. Our race, class and ethnic divisions will be suddenly amplified; any remaining sentimentality of Ubuntu (‘we are who we are through others’) will be the first victim.

If a full grid collapse occurs, mutual aid systems that have existed in so many migrant-labour export sites – such as stokvel collective savings – will be vital. More likely in less civilised places (such as Joburg’s wealthy suburbs) will be a rush for generators and a new wave of wall-building around those elite establishments which can muster off-grid power, as the mass of society’s food runs out and municipal water pumps are turned off.

A miracle scenario?
If that is too horrible to contemplate, then we must hope that the ‘miracle’ scenario allows elites’ paralysis to be overcome by grassroots consumer and community movements, a revitalised commitment by organised labour to broader public interests, and society’s renewed respect for environmentalists – and that all these fractious civil society forces work together in harmony, and rapidly gather sufficient strength to suppress the EIUG’s arguments and vested power relations.

At surface level, this scenario appears nearly impossible because of divisions within the self-interested section of the working class that appears strongest in 2015, in the wake of huge wage increases won during two massive 2014 strikes. The notoriously divided legions of metalworkers and mineworkers would need sufficient unity and then a vision of how to U-turn their industries. That would require them to democratically decide how to manage sustained electricity cuts over at least a ten-year time-frame, and in doing so, make durable alliances with consumers to spread the burden properly.

Who are these workers? Hundreds of thousands of union members labour every day at Eskom and the EIUG smelters and mines. Tragically, they have periodically attacked each other in sites of contested organising, such as Marikana where the August 2012 violence we know as the Lonmin/police massacre apparently began when NUM guards killed workers marching on their local office. Yet thanks to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which soon won the mineworkers’ loyalty, in 2014 a five-month platinum sector strike resulted in a 22% pay increase.

In another example of violence during the rise of worker power, in KwaZulu-Natal just north of Durban, three leaders of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) were assassinated last August a week after their union – Africa’s biggest with 340 000 members – won a 10% pay increase following a four-week strike. In 2015 more friction is expected as Numsa is replaced within the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) by a new union founded by former Numsa president Cedric Gina.

On the other hand, there are grounds for unity optimism because Numsa has begun talks with Amcu about forms of cooperation, and through the new ‘United Front’ – a network which will be formally launched in April – there is also increasing Numsa contact with scores of militant community groups. These grassroots activists often conduct service delivery protests and on a day-to-day basis, reconnect power illegally.

For instance, the founder of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), Trevor Ngwane (who is also a University of Johannesburg PhD student), was fired by the ANC as a Johannesburg city councilor and as the party’s Soweto leader in 1999 and within six months the SECC had emerged as an inspiration for similar power struggles across the world. Ngwane was a central figure at last month’s United Front strategy session.

Other new Numsa allies chosen as interim United Front leaders include progressive social justice advocates like Treatment Action Campaign founders Zackie Achmat and Vuyiseka Dubula, former Abahlali baseMjondolo secretary Bandile Mdlalose, former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, and political ecologists such as Brian Ashley of the Alternative Information and Development Centre which sponsors the Million Climate Jobs campaign.

That campaign is illustrative of the light at the end of the tunnel, for it poses creative options that would allow metalworkers to turn their welding skills to making turbines for wind and tidal energy, auto-makers to produce new forms of public transport, and hole-digging mineworkers to return home to townships with the skills required to create underground biogas digesters for sanitation that also supply methane for cooking.

A miracle scenario is actually one that Numsa itself occasionally dreams. Its renewable energy team has made inspiring statements over the past five years, led by the union’s long-standing education officer, Dinga Sikwebu, who is now helping to coordinate the United Front.

Illustrating some early connections in a precursor to the Front, Numsa took the lead in building a momentarily successful anti-Eskom alliance once before: over prices. Numsa had demanded that the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) lower Eskom’s tariff hike that year from the firm’s proposed 16%. Although Nersa angrily blamed Numsa for a January 2013 labour-community protest that disrupted its first hearing, in Port Elizabeth, eventually the regulator agreed that Eskom should only get an 8% increase.

The problem, though, was that Nersa – a ‘captive regulator’ whose first leader, Xolani Mkhwanazi went on to become BHP Billiton’s local boss, and who now defends the R11.5 billion Eskom subsidy he had repeatedly approved during the 1990s – did not delve into the rest of the energy crisis. So as Nersa napped, Eskom continued to mostly ignore renewable energy, and Transnet doubled the size of its Durban-Johannesburg oil pipeline without critical scrutiny.

Menu for a miracle
As Nersa regulation continues to fail society, ironically, the miracle option begins to look more plausible – even if highly unlikely – once one considers underlying political trends.

One factor is the extent of durable anger against the state over electricity, specifically what is sometimes described as ‘poor and expensive electricity supplies’, signifying problems with both access and costs.

The community protests are ubiquitous, sometimes victorious, but also full of dangers, including a localistic perspective without ideology. That problem dates back more than 15 years, to when waves of post-apartheid unrest swept urban and even small-town South Africa, even when Nelson Mandela ruled.

Over just the past six months, South Africa’s national media covered intense electricity protests in the core site of struggle, Soweto (against pre-payment meters) and in the townships of Thembelihle near Lenasia and Lawley near Ennerdale in southern Johannesburg, Kwanonqaba near Mossel Bay, Grabouw in the Western Cape, Mhlotsheni and Qhanqo villages in the Eastern Cape, Mankweng and Thoka near Pholokwane, and oThongathi north of Durban.

In the latter case, one resident interviewed by the Durban Daily News complained of broken promises since 1994 and finally the last straw: the electrocution of three boys at a substation. “These boys would not have died. They were connecting electricity to their homes so they could sleep with a warm meal in their stomachs.”

But a lack of linkages to one another and to similar water, housing, healthcare and education protests reflect how much a common democratic organisational home is desperately needed, just as when civic associations pulled together regional associations and then an SA National Civic Organisation in 1992, or when anti-apartheid protesters fused within the 1983-91 United Democratic Front.

The fiery community protests have had their dark side: scores of electrocutions when activists reconnect wires without caution, kids not being able to attend school during demonstrations, and periodic outbursts of xenophobia. On the latter front, Sikwebu expressed this goal in a 2012 labour seminar, “A search in our region, the rest of the African continent, the global South and the rest of the world for forms of cooperation and solidarity around energy that will ultimately replace competition and avoid workers of different countries being pitted against each other.”

This search was extended, in 2013, to Numsa hosting a BRICS meeting of labour, social and environmental activists to compare notes on electricity. For a miracle of this sort to be truly durable, the masses of angry demonstrators in other emerging markets, denied electricity, will perhaps begin to compare notes more frequently.

Encouragingly, two of South Africa’s four leading unions no longer act in concert as ‘sweetheart unions’ with government, and indeed have prosecuted intense class struggles against the EIUG: Numsa and Amcu. Sikwebu complains of how the EIUG has “through intense lobbying and provision of technical support to government departments at all levels of the state ensured a policy environment that favours their interests.”

The smallest of the four, white-dominated Solidarity, has members with the most technical skills to guide electricity restructuring, but an old-guard mentality. From a campaigning perspective, the big question is what happens to the third, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), once the country’s largest before its 2011-14 crisis.

NUM is still formidable when proposing ‘class snuggle’ strategies, and its former leadership includes three who won new national prominence: former President/Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (2008-14), ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (since 2007) and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (since 2014). However, these three men distinguished themselves by backing the muddling-through Eskom scenario, with no prospect they will sign onto a visionary strategy.

Although Numsa is no longer in Cosatu, a federation that now appears to be dominated by NUM, the last time a resolution was taken on energy – at the September 2012 Cosatu Congress – it was extremely ambitious, hinting at the need for the miracle scenario:

• the trade union federation endorses the necessity of moving from a high carbon economy dependent on coal and oil to a low carbon economy powered by renewable energy sources based on solar and wind in order to reduce CO2 emissions to mitigate global warming;
• such transition requires a new economic growth path which must address the mechanisms of a just transition from jobs dependent on coal and related products to alternative jobs in low- carbon industries including renewable energy, agriculture and food production and the production of necessary consumer goods for all;
• we must avoid a situation where workers bear all the costs of the transition;
• that to avoid a “just transition” being another capitalist concept, the path to a low carbon economy must be based in worker-controlled, democratic social ownership of key means of production and means of subsistence, including the energy.

One of the most optimistic scenarios of how, in the wake of Eskom’s repeated failures, a different electricity institution might emerge from the mess, comes from a 2012 speech by Numsa’s deputy general secretary, Carl Kloete, and it’s worth quoting at length:
1. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are referring to the fact that ownership of energy resources must be taken out of private hands and be put in the hands of the public through a mix of different forms of collective ownership, such as public utilities, cooperatives, municipal-owned entities and other forms of community energy enterprises where full rights for workers are respected and trade union presence is permitted. Energy entities that were privatised must be taken back and put under public ownership and control.
2. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are referring to energy being a public or common good that is publicly financed and comprehensively planned. We want to roll back the anarchy of liberalised energy markets.
3. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are expressing our determination to resist commodification of electrical power and our desire that energy systems should not be for profit but have as their mandate service provision and meeting of universal needs.
4. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are speaking of a system where workers, communities and consumers have control and a real voice in how energy is produced and used. We are calling for constituency-based governing councils in place of boards of directors in all energy entities. Existing state or publicly owned energy entities that act as private companies and on the basis of a profit motive need to be “socialised”.
5. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are calling for the accrual of a large share of economic benefits of energy production and consumption to producers and owners of the actual means through which energy is generated, transmitted and distributed.
6. When we talk about social ownership of energy systems we are referring to energy systems that respect our environmental rights, our rights for survival and those of future generations. Socially owned energy systems must prioritise renewable energy as part of respecting our environmental rights.

These are fine values, hitting the proper environmental justice buttons. They should be the basis for a coalition bringing together affordable energy activists in communities (as well as feminists possessing class consciousness), providing that such a transition would allow more Free Basic Electricity (FBE) than at present, cross-subsidised by charging more to wealthier over-consumers.

As University of the Western Cape political science professor Greg Ruiters pointed out in the journal Africa Development in 2011, FBE accounts for “a very tiny proportion of the total electricity sold in South Africa” and is “generally inadequate for either meeting basic needs or for meaningful pro-poor development.” Instead, suggests Ferial Adam of in the Earthlife Africa booklet Free Basic Electricity: A Better Life for All, a raise to 200 kWh/household/month is reasonable.

We all want miracles to happen. One example is the defeat of apartheid in spite of its decades-long attractiveness to multinational corporations and the West’s ‘democracies’ (recall how Washington officiallylabeled Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist’ from 1961-2008!).

Another South African miracle is the turnaround in life expectancy from 65 in 1994 to 52 in 2005 to 61 today, mainly as a result of 2.7 million people getting AntiRetroViral drugs from the public sector, which happened purely because of treatment activists. Access to medicines cut AIDS deaths from 364 000 in 2005 to 172 000 last year.

As the United Front and other leftists in civil society and the Economic Freedom Fighters party make greater waves in 2015, it will be vital to continue the expansion of labour and social movement connectivities deeper into communities and the broader society.

It is here that the United Front might explicitly claim to have within it all the most vital ingredients to provide the political will that generated those other two miracles, namely: the expertise and militancy of Eskom and Billiton workers, the anger of service delivery protesters, the desire of those poor masses lacking affordable electricity, the critical sensibility of environmentalists – all embracing the bravery and vigour of a young new organisation committed to fighting the state and capital from the left.

The sense South Africans have of paralysis above and movement below leaves these sorts of energy scenario planning exercises – ‘muddle through’, ‘meltdown’ and ‘miracle’ – in a rather fluid state.

But at a time the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report labels South Africa the world’s most intense class struggle site, the vitality of the coming debate on how Eskom should produce, transmit and distribute its power will surely mean we look hard at the extremes as well as the status quo.

If change entails rejecting the capture of South Africa’s electricity by multinational corporations as well as the scamming behind ANC crony capitalism, it also must entail advocacy of an alternative strategy. And that means, as the electricity is cut erratically each week into the foreseeable future, and as more South Africans become ever more gatvol, we can hope – and work – for a miracle.

 Other seminar programmes
 WISER Seminar Series 
 UKZN History Seminar Series 
 The Wolpe Trust 

|  Contact Information  |  Terms of Use  |  Privacy