By Hugo Kruger
“Energy equals quality of life, and we intervene there only with the most convincing of cases.” - Dr Michael Kelly at Cambridge’s Electrical Engineering Department – Energy Utopias and Engineering Realities (2019)
The voices behind the privatisation of Eskom will have to be forgiven by our grandchildren one day if they didn’t read Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
The breakup of the utility under the guise of a “just” energy transition is not just a threat to affordable energy but also to the integrity of South Africa as a state.
The misconception is that Eskom only provides kilowatt-hours to our homes and factories when, in fact, electricity plays a central role in human habitat creation.
Eskom’s historical role is poorly understood by South African intellectuals because the Afrikaners drew the wrong conclusion from their own history. The Afrikaner elites throughout the Apartheid years made the argument that it was the Afrikaans language that brought development and upliftment following the tragedy of the Anglo Boer War.
Although it is true that language played a unifying role, this is a misreading of history, as it stands in contrast to countries like Singapore which developed through the colonial language - English.
It was not language that uplifted the Afrikaner but rather a search for energy, and in particular, low entropy energy from coal – the backbone of the industrial revolution.
The first director of Eskom, Hendrik van der Bijl, was an engineer who worked for General Electric in the United States. After an invitation from General Jan Smuts, he returned home with the aim of bringing America’s New Deal to South Africa.
Eskom came into existence as a nationalisation project when several private electricity suppliers were bought out by the state.
Eskom was run as a non-profit utility with the mandate to only recover its own cost of its projects.
Before the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) came into being, Eskom was allowed to set its own tariff, and at one stage, it had a better credit rating than the SA government.
Important to understand is that Eskom played a key role in Apartheid’s Grand Strategy, the tactic that military planners fall on to protect the state during infiltration or invasion.
The Apartheid state planners were influenced by French Military thought and notably the thinking of General André Baufre, who wrote in the aftermath of The Second World War that “the collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the 20th century”.
Baufre coined the concept of Nuclear Deterrence, and his work until today is taught at South Africa’s War Colleges and to South African Civil Engineering students.
Apartheid didn’t just fall on deterrence when it developed the atomic bomb, but also to settle geopolitical conflicts through development. The policy was expanded to South Africa’s Water Resource Strategy and Electricity Supply Strategy.
The best example of deterrence is the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme, where Lesotho sells water to South Africa, but downstream is the hydroelectric dam, which sells electricity back to Lesotho.
If the Basuto leaders decide to turn off the water, we turn off the lights, and both countries die simultaneously. The policy forces cooperation.
Much of Eskom’s infrastructure was placed strategically to force many groups into cooperation, and it is my belief that it was ultimately the logic of the Apartheid Grand Strategy that forced the Afrikaners, against their own will, into cooperation with the African National Congress.
Eskom’s infrastructure, in addition to providing affordable electricity, is a geopolitical tool.
If Eskom is going to be privatised, then the politicians will have to give a guarantee that those historical conflicts won’t reassert themselves with consequences that threaten the very survival of the state.
The recipe of disrupting more than 100 years of development by tinkering with an electricity system was tried in Russia in the 1990s when the clever “Harvard Boys” advised Boris Yeltsin to implement policies that amounted to systemic sabotage.
Life expectancy fell by 30 years, and women were forced into prostitution. – that’s the route that we are on if we let the Presidential Climate Commission get its way.
That our “Minister of Electricity” and President are openly advocating for policies that speak only of ignorance deserves critical examination by the larger public.
Hügo Krüger is a YouTube podcaster, writer, and civil nuclear engineer who has worked on a variety of energy related infrastructure projects ranging from Nuclear Power, LNG and Renewable Technologies. He holds a Master’s in Nuclear Civil Engineering from École Spéciale des Travaux Publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie, Paris and a bachelor’s from the University of Pretoria.