Unions have Radebe by the balls over coal


By John Fraser

I have no idea about the size of Energy Minister Jeff Radebe’s testicles, and – despite the rumours – I have no great interest in this.

What I do know is that whether they are small, medium, large, or extra large, there are vice-like union hands squeezing them, and delaying the Minister’s move to a cleaner energy strategy.

Proof of this came today, Sunday.

There was no rest for the wicked – as we in the media are clearly regarded – because we were summoned to a ministerial sermon, far longer and less inspiring than the ones which (some of us) enjoy each Sabbath.

Radebe, in response to some prodding in the Q&A session, admitted that his grand plan for future energy strategy, which has been delayed time after time after time, after time to the power of ten, is in limbo.

Consultation is over, the broad lines are known – a move away from coal, no new nuclear, more gas and renewables.

However, Nedlac – that murky body in which government, the unions and business regularly shout at one another – has yet to deliver its blessing.

Without being too abusive to the unions, Radebe made it clear that their determination to hold on to jobs in a polluting extractive industry, for which no new bank finance or international agency funding will be forthcoming, is a major concern.

With an election looming, the ministerial globes are in hostile hands.

It was not his finest hour.  When asked about the corrupt and profligate Central Energy Fund and the incompetently run state energy firms under its (and ultimately his) control, he brushed the question aside, saying it was not the subject of this briefing.

It seems some things are too evil and satanic for a Sabbath session.

He was also reluctant to take any blame for the way in which the state-owned power utility Eskom has deliberately put the brakes on new projects by Independent Power Producers, even though he was a senior member of a past Cabinet which was supposed to oversee Eskom on behalf of the taxpayer.

Instead, he suggested things are back to normal now he is Energy Minister, conveniently forgetting the union bollock-battering that he is receiving, and the delays this is forcing in getting on with energy policy.

He admitted that Eskom’s influence forced out of business manufacturing firms linked to the renewable energy business.  But, seemingly, the buck has stopped a million miles away from his own door.

One can say of Radebe that he is an improvement on what came before.   Which is not saying a lot.

The recent return of revolving power cuts, constant reports of billions of rand purloined across Eskom, and the need for South Africa to meet its climate change obligations all demonstrate the need for courageous and decisive leadership.

Which was not evident in Jeff Radebe’s news conference today.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here





Eskom is the big budget winner

By John Fraser

Make no mistake.  With R69bn over three years, the state power utility Eskom is the big winner in the budget.

Cash for investment incentives is steadily being eroded, belts are being tightened to uncomfortable level all around, there will be effective tax allowance rises for taxpayers through insufficient increases in personal allowance, and all the nice things in life – booze, cigarettes, petrol, will cost more.

The Carbon Tax will be with us in just a few months; there will be a carbon tax on fuel.

Efforts will be made to speed up the retirement of state employees, some of whom will undoubtedly be popping up again as better-paid consultants.

But Eskom aid dwarfs all this.

In a media conference, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was on the defensive, as well he should have been.

He did clarify that although full-scale privatisation of Eskom is not on the cards, the generation and distribution sections will have all sorts of players, and he gave the example of the private renewable energy producers.

A Man from The Ministry – a sort of curator – will be parachuted into Eskom to keep an eye on things.

Wish him (her?) luck.

And when it comes to SAA, Toto knows he may not win the argument, but he has little enthusiasm for government bailouts there.

He suggested that whatever funds there are for transport should be directed to commuter taxis and to the railways – on which the majority of the population rely.

One footnote for the greenies among you.……

Disposable coffee cups and their lids, caps and containers, and plastic straws could all face a new tax.  Watch this space.

Time the fat cats in government drove local

By John Fraser

I always have two fingers at the ready when one of those blue light convoys tries to force me into a ditch as it whizzes by, with some self-important prat lounging in the back of the largest limo.

So far I am not aware whether any of my hopes have come true – that several bolts of lightning will descend upon the vehicles, microwaving the occupants, and saving a fortune in cremation fees.

However, a suggestion at a Toyota conference by my old chum Martyn Davies of Deloitte that government vehicles should be locally built did give me food for thought (the actual food at the event was very good – not a frequent occurrence at corporate events these days.)

It does seem immensely stupid that government pours billions of rand a year into the SA auto industry, to keep it anchored here and to encourage expansion, and yet so many cars in the state’s auto pool have been imported.

The mischievous might even suggest that there is an element of hypocrisy here, although this is rarely displayed by our political bosses and their bureaucratic lackeys.

Maybe, instead of trying to force us to pay ludicrous tolls and bombarding us with traffic fines (or bribes to make them go away) we could see something more effective.

Official vehicles should be lekkerly local as a strict rule, and should a state employee elect to display extra bling by purchasing an import, then they should enjoy no mileage allowance or any other vehicular perk.

The conference itself was interesting, despite the fawning awfulness of the MC, and Davies produced the shocking statistic that while only 66 electric vehicles were sold in SA last year, the figure for China was 1.1 million.

Toyota SA CEO Andrew Kirby was asked about local production of electric vehicles and hybrids, and he suggested it is some way off because of poor local demand.

This will change, but just not yet.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here

Concentration camps in the South African War? Here are the real facts

File 20190218 56246 3rfis.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
One of the Boer concentration camps.
Photographic Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

Fransjohan Pretorius, University of Pretoria

More than a century after 48 000 people died in concentration camps in what’s known as the South African War between 1899 and 1902 – or the Anglo-Boer War – the events of that period are back in the headlines.

The camps were established by the British as part of their military campaign against two small Afrikaner republics: the ZAR (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State.

The scandalous campaign is back in the news following controversial comments by British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on a BBC television programme.

Rees-Mogg’s statements have caused consternation because they were riddled with inaccuracies. It’s time to set the record straight and to refute his inaccuracies one by one. I do this based on the historical research I’ve done on the South African War for the last 49 years.

Setting the record straight

The claim that caused the most upset was Rees-Mogg’s allegation that the concentration camps had exactly the same mortality rate as was the case in Glasgow at the time.

This is simply factually incorrect.

In its recent Glasgow Indicators Project, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health gives the death rate of people in the city as 21 per 1000 per annum in 1901.

Inside one of the British concentration camps.
Photographical Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

The death rate for Boer civilians in the concentration camps in South Africa exceeded this by a factor of 10. It’s well established that 28 000 white people and 20 000 black people died in various camps in South Africa. Between July 1901 and February 1902 the rate was, on average, 247 per 1000 per annum in the white camps. It reached a high of 344 per 1000 per annum in October 1901 and a low of 69 per 1000 per annum in February 1902.

The figures would have been even higher had it not been for the fact that British welfare campaigner Emily Hobhouse exposed the deplorable conditions in the camps. A subsequent report by the Government’s Ladies Commission prompted the British Government to improve conditions. Another factor that reduced the fatality rate was that Lord Milner, High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of the Cape Colony, took over administration of the camps from the military from November 1901.

Rees-Mogg also revealed his total lack of understanding of why the British military authorities established the concentration camps in statements such as:

Where else were people going to live when … (the Boers were fighting the war)?

People were put in camps for their protection.

They were interned for their safety.

They were being taken there so that they could be fed because the farmers were away fighting the Boer War.

The reality was very different.

The origins of the camps

After Lord Roberts, chief commander of the British forces, occupied the Free State capital, Bloemfontein, on 13 March 1900, he issued a proclamation inviting the Boers to lay down their arms and sign an oath of neutrality. They would then be free to return to their farms on the understanding that they would no longer participate in the war.

Eventually, about 20 000 Boers – about a third – made use of this offer. They were called the “protected burghers”. Roberts had banked on this policy to end the war. But after the British occupation of the Transvaal capital, Pretoria, on 5 June 1900, there was no end in site. On the contrary, the Boers had started a guerrilla war, which included attacks on railway lines.

In reaction Roberts issued a proclamation on 16 June 1900, stating that, for every attack on a railway line the closest homestead would be burnt down. This was the start of the scorched earth policy. When this didn’t work, Roberts issued another proclamation in September stating that all homesteads would be burnt in a radius of 16 km of any attack, and that all livestock would be killed or taken away and all crops destroyed.

This policy was intensified dramatically when Lord Kitchener took over from Roberts as commander in November 1900. Homesteads and whole towns were burnt down even if there was no attack on any railway. In this way, almost all Boer homesteads – about 30 000 in all – were razed to the ground and thousands of livestock killed. The two republics were entirely devastated.

Meanwhile, the Boer leaders were reorganising their commandos after some major setbacks. One action was to remobilise the Boers who had laid down their arms.

Roberts felt he should protect his oath takers and gather them in refugee camps. The first two were established in Bloemfontein and Pretoria in September 1900.

But the scorched earth policy had led to more and more Boer women and children being left homeless. Roberts decided to bring them into the camps too. They were called the “undesirables” – families of Boers who were still on commando or already prisoners of war. They were given fewer rations than others in the camps.

A Boer family looks on at their house that was set alight by the British forces during the South African War.
Photographic Collection Anglo-Boer War Museum, Bloemfontein SA

These families eventually outnumbered the protected burghers and their families by 7:3.

These families were taken against their will. They were forcibly put on ox wagons and open railway trucks and taken to the camps. They were not, as Rees-Mogg claimed, moved for their protection and safety. Nor were they moved to the camps to be fed. Rather, their internship had everything to do with ending the resistance of Boers still fighting the British.

The administration of the camps was appalling. Food was of a very poor quality, sanitation deplorable, tents were overcrowded and medical assistance shocking. Little was known at the time about how to handle epidemics of measles and typhoid.

This isn’t all. Rees-Mogg is also obviously unaware of the action that the British commanders took against black South Africans. A total of 66 black concentration camps were set up across the Transvaal and Free State where conditions were just as bad and the death rates similar.

These camps were set up to get black people off the land so that the Boers couldn’t get supplies from them. In addition, forcing black farmers also enabled the British to use black men as labourers on gold mines.

Rees-Mogg was right on one point: the concentration camps didn’t have the same aims as Adolf Hitler’s extermination camps during the Second World War. The aim in South Africa wasn’t systematic murder.

But this shouldn’t detract from his numerous other falsehoods.The Conversation

Fransjohan Pretorius, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here


Does Caster merit special treatment?

This is what I wrote for The Messenger last year.

Caster Semenya is a brave, determined, admirable athlete. It is irritating and humiliating that her hormonal balance is the subject of so much international scrutiny. Is it wrong, though?

Nobody can take away from her an extraordinary array of achievements, nor her excellence as an athlete.

So, what do we make of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)? This regulatory body seems to believe that the South African athlete has a hormonal structure which gives her an unfair advantage in races against other female athletes.

The ruling of the IAAF is that female athletes including Semenya, will have to reduce and then maintain their testosterone levels to a certain ceiling if they want to compete in events ranging from 400m to a mile.

Were Caster an accountant, a lawyer, a farmer or (God help her) a journalist, her hormonal structure would be totally irrelevant.

But when you have someone in the fiercely competitive, fraction-of-a-second, watched-by-millions, world of athletics excellence, should the same rules apply?

Let us look at this another way. If you had a Paralympic event which was won by an able-bodied athlete, you would condemn this as cheating.

So how is it different if the other female competitors in a race face a disadvantage because an unusual hormonal mix – caused by nature, not drugs – gives Caster that extra edge?

It is a tricky one, and there is a case to be made for both sides of this argument.

This is not about her appearance, nor her voice, nor her character.    This is about science, not emotion.

It has been reported that MPs have joined the chorus of condemnation against these rules, describing them as “unjust, sexist, dehumanising”.

These rules, however, have not been drawn up with regulating MPs in mind, nor to deal with workplace disputes. They apply only to the athletics track.

Of course, we all bask in the glow of national pride every time any one of our athletes wins a race, wins a medal, breaks a record.

Does this mean we can ignore the concerns inside some sectors of the world of athletics that any female competitor with unusually high levels of certain hormones, has an unusual advantage? Do you ignore this, or do you regulate?

Caster is not being asked to stop competing, but for certain races, she will need to take medical measures to adjust her hormone levels –  if she wishes to enter.

Annoying?  Certainly.   But unjust?  Sexist?

The Australian cricketers were, quite rightly, condemned over the recent ball-tampering incident.

It just wasn’t cricket.  It was unfair.   It was cheating.

The way in which Caster is being treated is harsh, humiliating, hurtful.

When looked at emotionally, it seems so unfair.

But is it?

RIP DVD – a major con on the consumer

By John Fraser

All good things come to an end, and my faithful Blu-ray player needed replacement.   I sought advice from a contact at Makro, who told me Samsung is no longer importing them into South Africa.

A trip to a couple of retail outlets revealed a couple of display units still on offer, along with some really expensive units.   A trip to the Takealot website showed a few units, but no direct replacement for my dying one.

So I suspect the writing is on the wall.    Just like VHS players (of which I could find none on the Takealot website) DVD, Blu Ray, CD players are slowly on the way out.

I did manage to find a suitable Blu-ray rayplacement, purchasing it from Amazon in the US.  It was expensive to ship, the import duties were harsh, and it had the wrong plug.

But it was soon up and running, working well, and it plays my Blu-rays, CDS, DVDs, while having an excellent streaming facility which gives me access to Netflix and YouTube.

But what do I do if this one lasts less long than I do?  I have a good collection of CDs and DVDs, many of which replaced now-discarded VHS and audio cassettes and vinyl (I did not expect the vinyl revival).

My assertion is that the people who sold me all of these discs of one sort or another should have some responsibility for keeping them valid.  Either by getting their associated electronics businesses to continue churning out the players, or by starting their own production.

When I asked someone in the industry about my fears of the death of DVD, he responded: “Have you tried streaming?”

I have, yes.  But I still want to return to the favoured drama, comedy and music for which I have already paid.    Streaming is not cost-free.   If you don’t have uncapped data, it can be cripplingly expensive.  And not everything is readily available online.

So, it worries me that as technology evolves, some of the hardware to drive your home entertainment is facing extinction.

I would like to think the entertainment industry shares my concern, but there is a nagging doubt that it will recklessly continue to offer new products, new systems, so it can cash-in afresh, again and again.

And bugger the consumer. Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here