This is a nice image

I spent a lot of time awake last night wondering about writing a blog post. It was to have been a contentious blog post, and would have required some defence against forces of ignorance and prejudice. I don’t mind stepping up to the plate for this sort of thing, but it does require time and effort. I really don’t have the time at the moment and the effort would have been mainly used up shouting at a brick wall. I have better things to do with my effort right now. I’m not writing that blog post.

Part of the post was going to relate to how the opposition party (and/or anyone else who criticises corruption in SA) cannot afford to bend any rules at all, even when it would clearly make good sense to be able to do so, for fear of losing the moral high ground. We’ve already seen examples of how this can hold us back as a community – for example, the protracted time for the tender processes for aquifer drilling and desalination plants. The blog post was going to feature another example.

For me, this is a sad situation which has been exacerbated by the rampant looting of the state over the past 9 years. In my opinion, Jacob Zuma has caused immeasurable damage to this country and set us back in so many ways. So this was a nice image to log on to this morning:

Yes, that’s our ex-President in the dock on 18 charges of Racketeering, Corruption, Money Laundering and Fraud. The likelihood of him ever going to prison for these crimes is, at best, slight. The wheels of justice may be turning, but they turn very slowly. There will be appeals upon appeals, and every legal delaying tactic will be used. That’s his right, and that’s how justice works.
In this case, it’s unlikely ever to be done.
We’re looking at years and years and years.

His court appearance today took just 12 minutes.

But it was very important that those 12 minutes took place.

This is a nice image.

 

Addendum: I’m getting a lot of interest in the subject of the original planned blog post. See here, and do the maths. Don’t @ me. 🙂

Keeping The Lights On

One of the benefits of being over in the UK recently was that I was able to pick up the latest copy of Private Eye magazine. I used to be a subscriber, but found that the postal delay rendered much of the content dated and irrelevant. If ever there was a case for a publication having a digital edition, Private Eye are it. Topical satire simply doesn’t age well.

But I digress. Often.

There was a column in it written by ‘Old Sparky’, entitled “Keeping The Lights On”. It was very interesting to read it as a SA resident. It’s probably a bit long to add into a blog post, to be honest, but I’ve never been one to abide by the petty unwritten rules around blogging, so here is it, in its entirety – I’ll see you for more comment on the other side:

WHEN the authorities make contingency plans against predictable disasters, we all applaud their foresight. Which catastrophes they are thinking about, however, can be revealing and give cause for concern; and right now the government is working on the possibility of a five-day nationwide power blackout – putting all its breezy denials of the lights going out into perspective.

As frequently noted here, energy policy since the dreadful Energy Act 2008 has resulted in the safety margin between reliable electricity generating capacity and peak demand becoming progressively and dangerously tighter. A 20 percent margin would be considered comfortable; but this winter it will only be 1.2 percent – down from 4.1 percent last year – before the National Grid takes special short-term measures.

Homes and hospitals
The grid has recently been bolstering its emergency resources with banks of diesel generators and the right to switch off industrial customers. Publicly the government always insists “the lights will stay on” – in homes and hospitals, that is. But it’s a costly, third-world way to run a grid in a supposedly advanced economy: and now we know they obviously don’t think it is guaranteed to work.

Papers seen by Private Eye indicate that the Cabinet Office and Treasury combined are planning for a scenario in which there is a five-day nationwide blackout with only small stand-by generators working. The detailed consequences they envisage include:

  • No landline telephones available to businesses or homes
  • Mobile phones with voice-only service (not data)
  • No street lights, traffic lights or public transport
  • Two-thirds of petrol stations closed
  • Shops open only sporadically and unreliably
  • ATMs unavailable, with cash running out fast

This would most probably happen in winter. It goes without saying that such a situation would also bring about ghastly accidents and loss of life, with the emergency services much constrained in their ability to cope. The implications for industry, commerce and public order are grim, too. If it’s any comfort, the German authorities – based on their own crazy energy policy – are looking at very similar scenarios.

With all this at stake, as prudent as it may be to plan for potential calamities, it would surely have been better to render the blackout scenario redundant by properly ensuring security of electricity supply. The current combination of intermittent wind farms, ageing nukes, fast-closing coal-fired power stations and mothballed gas-fired plants doesn’t do that: and privately the government knows it.

Yeah. We think that SA is the only one with problems like these. But there’s a real danger that the UK could experience some form of load-shedding this winter as well. (Regular readers shouldn’t find this news surprising.)

When similar ‘disaster’ plans made by Eskom and the SA Government became public knowledge, there was considerable disquiet and some small degree of panic (probably mainly thanks to scaremongering headlines). Sales of tinned goods reached heights not seen since 1994 and we all waiting to be plunged into dark, apocalyptic anarchy.

It didn’t happen.

Yet.

SA signed up (or didn’t sign up, depending on whom you choose to believe) for 4 new nuclear power stations, designed and supplied and ostensibly run by a foreign power – Russia. (Ironically, the UK has pretty much done the same thing with China and France.)

The cost of this SA/Ruskie venture? A tidy One Trillion Rands. It’s a lot of money, but the issues are not specifically around the cost, but (as you will read here) mainly around the safety of nuclear power stations and the potential for widespread corruption. Thing is though, the safety issue isn’t actually an issue – one only has to look at the still completely unexploded Koeberg Power Station to see that. And the corruption thing, while entirely valid, has got very little to do with this specific deal, and would be a problem no matter what large scale civil engineering project was being undertaken, and by whomever. That’s how these things work in SA. It’s sad, but it’s true.
So your plans for a ‘super clean’, ridiculously big, massively inefficient solar plant would attract the same problem. Your unpretty, flying thing killing, massively inefficient wind turbine plan will also be loaded with backhanders. But Greenpeace will probably choose to ignore that.

Large scale projects are expensive. Producing electricity is expensive. It’s something we have to accept though, because these are things that we need. People with trendy, fleetingly zeitgeist ideas like diverting that Trillion Rand to tertiary education are missing the rather obvious point that without some form of generating more electricity, there will be nothing for their newly graduated thousands to do in an economy that’s lying in small bits and pieces all over the bottom of Africa.
Yes, of course this situation could definitely have been better managed – it could still be better managed – but we need to do something, because otherwise we’re going to end up implementing that Eskom blackout plan.
And that is not a road we want to be going down.

PDF of the Private Eye article.

The Lusikisiki Speedbump Conundrum

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of driving through some of the Eastern Cape: specifically the region formerly known as the Transkei. It was an eye opener of note – the roads crowded with children, goats, dogs, donkeys and potholes. Most of the journey was through the unique rural landscape, but we also travelled through the towns of Bizana, Flagstaff and Lusiksiki. The former two were busy, bustling and dirty; the latter – a hilltop settlement developed from a military camp established in 1894 – was more notable for its huge number of apparently unnecessary road calming measures.

No driver particularly likes speedbumps, but I think that the majority of us can understand the need for them in certain places: near schools, pedestrian areas etc. What I didn’t quite understand was the need for 79 (seventy-nine) of them (and 31 rumble strips) on the R61, in and around Lusikisiki. The majority (though not all, as keen mathematicians will note) of the speedbumps were arranged in groups of 6, perhaps 50 cm apart. Having watched minibus taxis repeatedly slowing to a near standstill to traverse these devilish sets, I can attest to the fact that they are a particularly effective way of slowing vehicular traffic down.

But, as I mentioned, slowing it down for no apparent reason whatsoever. Even when you leave the town and are heading back out onto the roads snaking south towards Port St Johns – the speed limit back up to 80kph, there’s yet another lot – in the middle of nowhere. It was almost as if they’d been put there for the sake of putting them there – or because someone needed to be paid for something tangible. Look, I’m not suggesting that the local municipality is in any way corrupt, but it’s kind of tough to work out what other reason there could be for so much utterly pointless work being done when the whole area is so severely impoverished.

Hmm.

I was reminded of this anecdote:

Some years ago the mayor of a small rural town in the Eastern Cape visited his friend, the mayor of a similar town in Zimbabwe.
When he saw the palatial mansion belonging to the Zimbabwean mayor, he wondered aloud how on earth he could afford such a house.
The Zimbabwean replied: “You see that bridge over there? The government gave us a grant to construct a two-lane bridge, but by building a single lane bridge with traffic lights at either end, I could build this place.”
The following year the Zimbabwean mayor visited the Eastern Cape town. He was simply amazed at the Eastern Cape mayor’s house: gold taps, marble floors, diamond doorknobs; it was marvellous.
When he asked how he’d raised the money to build this incredible house, the Eastern Cape mayor said: “You see that bridge over there?”
The Zimbabwean replied: “No.”

Indeed. There’s no new bridge in Lusikisiki, but there are speedbumps for Africa… and beyond.

A Question of Trust

This whole “is the case against Jacob Zuma about to be dropped?” thing. Man, it’s getting complicated.
Why doesn’t someone take things back to basics and explain it in straightforward terms?

OK – here you go, then:

Jacob Zuma, out future President (in 3½ weeks) and who can’t be trusted is set to face charges of corruption, money laundering, racketeering and fraud. He is alleging that these charges, which were investigated by Leonard McCarthy of the Scorpions (who can’t be trusted), were instated by Thanda Mngwengwe of the National Prosecuting Authority (who can’t be trusted) and were being pressed by Bululani Ngcuka of the NPA (who can’t be trusted), are politically motivated by Thabo Mbeki (who actually can’t be trusted, either) .

In a new twist revealed this week, it appears that the South African Police Service (who can’t be trusted), and their Gauteng deputy provincial commissioner Richard Mdluli (who can’t be trusted) bugged the phones of the Mbeki camp and of the Scorpions (neither of whom, remember, can be trusted) and recorded some “potentially embarrassing information”, which the Zuma legal team (who can’t be trusted) are now threatening to release if the charges are not dropped.

Suspended national police commissioner Jackie Selebi (who really can’t be trusted) has denied knowledge of the clandestine recording activities of the Scorpions (who can’t be trusted) and other key players (who can’t be trusted) in the Zuma (who can’t be trusted) corruption saga.

All my information comes from The Times… Umm. No comment.