From the barrel: The bold steps to a new energy trajectory
By Bheki Gila
Various governments worldwide including ours, have been experimenting with different types of lockdown restrictions, resorting to unequal gradations of intensities, attempting in their desperation to curtail different stages of advance of a raging pandemic.
Time will tell on the economic efficacies of these efforts. There are some inescapable truths to reckon with however, Covid -19 excuses notwithstanding. The most prominent among them is that the economic models predating the pandemic, may not have any optimal utility in carving a new economic reality henceforth. Something has to change.
South Africa for its part, is particularly vulnerable. Its economy has been floundering for over a decade and has had to contend with two or more brief spells of recessionary declines. To the chagrin of the administration, no amount of demagoguery has helped to improve the situation, faced with the hard economic realities which persist with a streak of stubbornness and have become worse over time.
In the middle of all that, a pandemic like a category five hurricane, has all-too-suddenly deluged the` already flooded plains. An unnatural disaster just rudely interrupted a social disaster in casual progress. Something extraordinary ought to happen, requiring that the theoretic assumptions and economic postulates that brought us here must accordingly change. After all, who would have known that the need for the distribution of PPE’s would confirm our suspicion that corrupt capital has long persuaded our democracy out of the obsequious mantra of the ‘government of the people by the people for the people’. All we are left with now is a government by some people..!
It is a long way from 1911 when South Africa became the first country to trademark the red Pegasus, what would become a very iconic symbol of the Mobil brand, to year 2020 which saw the inferno that conflagrated through the Engen refinery, forcing it to declare closure sine die. A few months before that, the Astron refinery formerly known as Chevref, lost one of its columns in a blaze that claimed the lives of a few people, forcing it also to announce closure until further notice. In lock step, the local petroleum producing syndicate issued its ultimatum to a financially broke government. ‘Pay us USD3.8 Billion, or else..’ What to do. What to do?
The innocence of our democratic politicking has been raptured, revealing the ugly truth that the parochial interests of the powerful do not only define democracy, but also are far more important than the yearnings of the majority. The two major pillars that have informed the inflexibility or otherwise of our economic policies have been fear and graft. And so, to craft a new paradigm out of this morass, Robert Frost and the Road not Taken come to mind.
We are lost in the ocean’s drifting tide, and lost without any soul, Mae Stein writes in Drifting out to Sea. In step one, South Africa must complete the revision of the petroleum pricing mechanism. The current one is loaded with things that have no material bearing on our global reality. The second point talks to the dishonesty of official pronouncements, or simply put, the sinews that hold together the pillars of our policy inflexibility. Of these pillars, either one must go, preferably both for, in the most insidious of ways, they collude to perpetuate dishonesty throughout our political discourse and inevitably, distort the outcomes of our common endeavours. In that vein, the Energy Department must resist the impulse of announcing through the Presidency things about new refineries which they know are patently untruthful. And whilst they are at it, they must give a full and honest account of their practical and most laudable initiative to consolidate the resources of our state-owned energy agencies.
Frost hopes that if we take the road less travelled as a country, we ‘shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence, two roads diverged in a wood, and we took the one less travelled, and that made all the difference’.
Some of the best among us will be politicians someday. The creatures of the forest hated the vultures with deep profundity but could not stand the stench of decaying flesh. Therefore in kind consideration to this wisdom, the teeming forest has lent us the common valour to venerate the politician, notwithstanding the fragility of his morality which is threatened by extinction. That which is human in them will heed Ben Okri’s gift of telling that they are, like the rest of us, listeners at the oracle. All that is best in them, will make them truly hear and will be touched and changed.
And who knows, South Africa may miraculously opt to take the voyage less travelled back to shore.
Ambassador Bheki Gila is a Barrister-at-Law
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