15 February 2008

It’s the coal, stupid!

The Business Day’s front-page splash story today (linked below) is about Eskom having to spend “R11bn” on coal. Of course this is a budget figure and the actual expenditure may be very different. In an example of budget over-run in the same Mathabo le Roux article, it is reported that in terms of capital expenditure on new power stations: “Maroga said the tendered cost of equipment such as turbines and boilers exceeded estimates by about 30%. Civil engineering tenders were “an even bigger shock”, overshooting estimates as much as 50%.”

Meanwhile, in the Mail & Guardian Online (see the second linked item), Jocelyn Newmarch reports: “Eskom’s directors and top brass, about 30 people, paid themselves R21,8-million for the year ending March 2007, up from R18-million the previous year and a whopping R56-million for the 15-month period ending March 2005. In 2003 they raked in a collective R15,9-million.”

The whole thing looks like a gigantic extortion racket, based on manipulation of coal supplies. The scam was to create problems, menace the entire economy including the mines, and then to demand huge amounts of money to fix the problems the scammers had themselves created. The perpetrators must all be fired! If we do not fire them, they or others like them will work the same scam over and over again.

Newmarch’s article is very detailed. It begins: “Eskom’s countdown to catastrophe began in 2000 when it had enough coal stockpiled to last 61 days. Last month, when it shut down the country’s mines, the stockpiles were down to less than three days’ supply. …[The then] newly appointed chief executive Thulani Gcabashe implemented a new policy to reduce the stockpile to 44 days to reduce operating costs.” Read more about this
here and here.

The second part of the MGO article, written by Lynley Donnelly, is very instructive about the (existing) BHP Billiton aluminium smeltering contracts. Donnelly quotes the (capitalist) arms-deal whistleblower Richard Young as saying (much like the
Communist University) that these potline smelters should be shut down: “Even if Billiton had to be compensated for its losses by the government using taxpayers’ money, this would be far better than allowing the damage caused by load-shedding to continue,” he says. Meanwhile it appears that the planned new smelter at Coega has been blown away. See the third item below, also by Mathabo le Roux. You don’t get much more definite than that. It’s a dead duck.

This major investigative exposé by Newmarch and Donnelly appears not to have made it into the hard-copy Mail & Guardian; but in The Star, Louise Flanagan’s deadpan rewrite of Eskom’s own propaganda is waved through, including the following: “Eskom intends more than doubling its generation capacity to 80 000Mw by 2025. This includes up to 20 000Mw from nuclear power stations. The first of these is due to be about twice as big as Koeberg, which has a capacity of 1 800Mw.” In the same edition is the stark letter of a survivor of the power-station closure programme of 10 years ago, E L Mndenge. Both linked.

The sixth item is Terry Bell’s attempt to warm up a three-week-old story. At least he got this much right: “He [Tony Ehrenreich] …insisted that an internationally agreed day of action should take precedence over a local party political function”. Terry Bell fails to emphasise it enough, but the meaning is clear: Tony Ehrenreich was arrogantly treating the SACP as if it was an affiliate of COSATU, and for that he collected a raspberry from the Party. Deservedly so!

The Terry Bells and the Tony Ehrenreichs of this world have so far failed to realise that a movement that is incapable of doing more than one thing at a time is hardly a challenge to a tiddly-winks team, let alone a revolutionary challenge to the bourgeois state. Don’t now forget the Coming Events!

Click on these links:

Emergency coal boost will cost Eskom R11bn, M le Roux, B Day (617 words)

Anatomy of a catastrophe, Newmarch and Donnelly, MGO (2286 words)

Energy crisis gives Rio doubt on Coega, Mathabo le Roux, B Day (602 words)

Eskom on track to boost power output, Louise Flanagan, Star (472 words)

Patch up wounds or we bleed to death, E L Mndenge, Star (209 words)

Witch-hunt ties union principles to the stake, Terry Bell, B Report (612 words)

Coming Events


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