The latest wave of load shedding once again raises the question of whether the ANC really does have the energy needed to take South Africa into the future.
To govern South Africa, with all its diversity, as a centralised unitary state does not only require good leadership, but also the kind of energy that literally sets wheels turning and that connects the entire country via power lines.
Eskom’s inability to supply enough electricity for the South African economy is a well-known fact. What is, however, less well-known is that South Africa’s ability to process crude oil into petrol, diesel and jet fuel is basically non-existent.
The majority of South Africa’s petroleum products is imported in their already processed state. This makes the country a lot more vulnerable to international price fluctuations and political instabilities and so forth.
The history of South Africa’s energy generation and provision is inextricably interwoven with coal mining. Although the country does not have any crude oil deposits, coal deposits abound. So, Eskom was established in 1923 with the aim of supplying electricity to the then emerging South African economy by means of coal power plants.
Although electric vehicle transport seemed promising at the beginning of the last century, the internal combustion engine gradually began to dominate the scene completely and as a result, South Africa became increasingly dependent on imported petroleum products. Refineries were developed in Cape Town and Durban to meet the increasing demand. Although private companies developed these refineries, it was part of a comprehensive, government-backed energy policy.
Ever since Sasol’s construction in 1950, it has been tasked with converting coal into liquid fuel. The Fischer-Tropsch method of doing this was, at the time, a tried and tested form of technology, but it was not necessarily economically competitive. Nevertheless, this company proceeded to unlock the potential of the entire coal value chain. Fertiliser, candle wax and even asphalt to build roads are only some of the products that South Africa was able to produce as a result. Nowadays, Sasol’s refineries are the only ones in South Africa that comply with modern standards.
But in the mid-eighties, both Sasol and Eskom were world-class companies. Sasol was, however, privatised while Eskom remained state owned. After 1994, the companies followed two completely divergent trajectories: Sasol kept modernising and expanding; but Eskom fell victim to deployed cadres’ looting of state assets.
Environmental concerns make coal combustion more and more unacceptable. And if that were the reason why Eskom has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate, it would have made sense.
And if the result were a policy of renewable energy, the production of green hydrogen and a completely new, modernised transport infrastructure, it would have been commendable. Load shedding would have been no more than a short-lived transitional crisis.
The unfortunate reality is that innovative projects of this nature have to make do with very little resources. While the pioneers in the field of hydrogen-based fuel, HySA, should have been a well-funded flagship of the Department of Energy, it is one of the smallest public enterprises and falls under the Department of Science and Innovation. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise seeing as this Department is managed fairly well.
Municipalities comprise a very large part of the country’s energy market. Thus, they can to a certain extent make up for the central government’s utter failure. But that will require voters to stand up, stand strong and stand together on 1 November and vote the same ANC, which caused South Africa’s energy crisis, out of municipal government.
Read the original article in Afrikaans by Dr. Wynand Boshoff on FF Plus