/ 29 March 2019

Letters to the editor: March 29 to April 4

Lines to power: The crucial questions we should be asking are: Why has this happened and is there anything that we can do? — and then we should urgently implement solar power

Vote for power change

The recent bout of load-shedding has cast a great deal of light on South Africa’s political predicament.

We saw Eskom shutting down the power amid a mass of implausible excuses, which nobody believed for a moment. Then we saw Eskom’s chairperson appearing alongside Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to make amends for all these lies. His declaration — which was probably also a pack of lies but never mind — was that Eskom had been given many billions of rands to maintain and upgrade its power stations but had not done this, as a result of which power production had collapsed.

After such a statement, in any functioning state, the chairperson would be led off in handcuffs, to face a trial or a firing squad. Instead, Gordhan proclaimed his complete faith in him and announced that more time was needed for a thorough investigation into the exoneration of all guilty parties and that a report would be compiled once this had been done.

In essence, both of them turned their backs, dropped their pants and farted in the faces of the public.

They knew they could do this with impunity, without even being criticised by the white monopoly capital media, because they are backed by white monopoly capital and the president, who is also backed by white monopoly capital.

It was an expressive illustration of just how powerless we are, and how dominant the oligarchy has become. In 1986, both of those ghastly puppets would very probably have been necklaced; now we stare at the oncoming privatisation train like paralysed squirrels.

The only two questions worth asking are: Why has this happened, and is there anything that we can do?

Obviously the activities of Eskom and its supporters all relate to privatisation. White monopoly capital wants to make money out of brokering the sale of Eskom to foreign multinationals; that’s why Gordhan tried to outsource the maintenance of Eskom to a foreign multinational and why his predecessors handed over renewable energy to foreign multinationals (called “independent power producers” although they are certainly not independent and produce little power).

So what can we do to evade chaos or capture? Well, we can vote. Obviously, vote against the ANC and bring down the temple of corporate greed, but who do we want in its place? The Democratic Alliance is just as keen on helping foreigners to loot the country as President Cyril Ramaphosa is and they have been howling for privatisation ever since their formation.

Fortunately, there is an alternative, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the party that the media tell us we mustn’t vote for. This is in itself a good reason for voting for them, because anything that annoys white monopoly capital constitutes an excellent protest vote.

Meanwhile, the EFF has chutzpah, convictions (often criminal ones, of course, but given the state of our judiciary that could be a good sign too) and is “populist” (that is, it says what the public wants to hear, which is naturally not what white monopoly capital wants).

Admittedly, they’re a bunch of black racists with tin ears and big mouths, so they’re not exactly ideal. But there is nothing else, so they must be supported if the country is to be saved from the current impending catastrophe.

It won’t be, of course — if the EFF took power, the Nato countries would organise a coup to restore the authority of white monopoly capital. But it would be fun, or at least extremely interesting, while it lasted. —Mathew Blatchford, University of Fort Hare

■ Is South Africa the only country where fossil-fuelled electricity is more intermittent and unreliable than renewables? Why is the Mail & Guardian the only paper that consistently reports on climate change?

In the wake of Cyclone Idai, I also have to ask: Why are we only concerning ourselves about losing a gigawatt or so from our electricity grid? Climate science predicts more intense storms as the planetary climate warms. This is an existential threat to our species and the first victims will mostly be the poor — including, in this instance, three of our neighbours — Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Add these two issues together and you have to ask: Why are none of the major parties emphasising climate change and renewable energy?

Much of this is about the short-term thinking that coal equals jobs. This is wrong on many levels. Coal jobs will not stop instantly but, with growing pressure for reduced greenhouse gas emissions around the world, coal is a sunset fuel source and we should be making other plans — particularly because our newest coal plants are unreliable and will cost a fortune to get into reasonable shape.

A comprehensive plan would take a lot more than this, but a quick short-term fix is to make it easy to do private, grid-connected solar power in which any excess you generate is paid for with a feed-in tariff at least equal to the Eskom retail price to the consumer. Doing this could add a gigawatt of solar power to the grid in a matter of months.

A reason for a slow acceptance of this concept is the fear that it would bankrupt municipalities, which rely on profits from electricity sales to balance their budgets. Here’s news: municipalities are perfectly capable of bankrupting themselves and owe many billions to Eskom. There is a simple fix for this, too: charge a grid-connect fee for solar power, calculated to replace the municipal markup on Eskom power. This can be calibrated to be revenue-neutral for municipalities.

Although solar cannot provide power 24/7, this solution will reduce the need to fall back on expensive peaking power plants that are meant to run only a few hours a day. It will also be a massive job creator.

But I see nothing of this ilk from the major parties — only vacuous slogans. Where is the leadership? — Philip Machanik