The resignation of the chief executive officer (CEO) of Eskom, Mr André de Ruyter, has sent shock waves through the country.
While his performance, load shedding under his leadership, and the reasons behind his resignation will remain the topic of discussion for quite some time; the biggest question is what will happen next?
Eskom has been terminally ill ever since investment in new generation capacity was stopped at the turn of the millennium, and was followed by the disastrous construction of the Medupi and Kusile power stations.
Blaming De Ruyter for the recent collapse of power provision is like blaming a doctor in whose hands a cancer patient dies.
That is, however, not what is important.
What is most important is that South Africa as state has a heritage from the colonial era and is, as such, carefully knit together by its infrastructure of power lines, pipelines, railway lines and roads.
It has an industrial economy built on a foundation of processing and exporting agricultural and mining products, which has maintained unity for more than a century.
However, the poor condition of roads is no secret, while Transnet’s railway and pipeline networks are not much better off. These developments will have significant political consequences.
Politics hates a vacuum just as much as nature does. The State’s implosion, in which De Ruyter’s resignation marks a definitive milestone, will inevitably lead to new structures of authority. Mafia-like activities in the construction and mining sectors are frequently reported. It is, however, harder to implement something like that in energy provision.
Businesses, households and communities that join forces will increasingly have to generate their own energy.
Here, renewable energy resources are relevant, but small-scale modular nuclear reactor units could also contribute to the energy mix.
Such technologies allow for much smaller energy projects than the enormous scale of Eskom.
Thus far, it was generally accepted that Eskom, with all its shortcomings, will keep fulfilling the dominant role in South Africa’s energy provision. But that does not address the question of what will happen should Eskom collapse.
The answer lies therein that South Africa will change drastically, beyond recognition. Communities and areas able to generate their own electricity will also be able to maintain a modern economy.
The rest of the country will predominantly fall back into some form of subsistence economy. The State will collect less tax revenue, which will jeopardise social grants.
All these factors will put unbearable pressure on the political unity in the country.
National borders follow the reality on the ground, not the other way around.
In a decade or two, chances are that Southern Africa’s borders will reflect its people’s ingenuity and ability to cooperate to generate electricity.
Read the original article in Afrikaans by Dr. Wynand Boshoff on FF Plus
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