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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price December 6, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Film screening, Politics, South Africa, Work.
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Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, an acclaimed documentary film that investigates the destructive impacts of the world’s largest retailer which is soon coming to South Africa, will be shown at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town on Saturday 11 December at 12:00 noon.

Walmart is infamous across the world for its attack on workers. Now it’s coming to South Africa!

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a feature length documentary that uncovers the retail giant’s assault on America and the world by exploring the deeply personal stories and everyday lives of families and communities struggling to fight the goliath. A working mother is forced to turn to public assistance to provide healthcare for her two small children. A family loses its business after Wal-Mart is given over $2 million to open its doors down the road. A community in California unites, takes on the giant, and wins!

This event is hosted by the Cape Town branch of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a democratic, worker-run union dedicated to organising on the job, in our industries and in our communities, both to win better conditions today and to build a world without bosses.

The screening will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion.

Tickets are R10 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. This is a once-off screening and we strongly recommended that you reserve tickets to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the IWW, the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences.


The Labia:
021 424 5927


While You Were Sleeping:
Andreas Späth
084 772 1056

The Zambezi be dammed! December 6, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, renewable energy, South Africa, Southern Africa.
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The Zambezi be dammed!

(This column was first published on 2010-11-03 at News24 here)

Eskom makes all of us energy colonialists. By buying electricity from a new hydroelectric dam in Mozambique it will continue to contribute to social and environmental degradation in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In August, the government of Mozambique officially approved the construction of the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam which is to be built in the Zambezi River about 60km downstream from the existing Cahora Bassa Dam. The project is expected to cost between $2bn and $3.5bn and deliver 1 500MW of electricity with the potential of being expanded to 2 400MW.

Construction, led by a consortium of Mozambican and Brazilian interests, is slated to start in 2011 and take five to six years to complete. As early as January the Mozambican newspaper Notícias reported that negotiations of long-term power purchase agreements with Eskom were expected to be concluded this year.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Isn’t this sort of thing going to help Mozambique develop?”

Indeed, proponents of the new dam claim that it will attract energy-intensive industries to the country, but in reality, Eskom and power hungry South Africa are expected to consume some 90% of the electricity generated.

Devastating impacts

Only about 5% of Mozambicans currently have access to electricity and half of those live in Maputo. The impoverished rural majority, much in need of electricity, will not see any of the power produced by the new dam.

Contrary to popular belief, large hydroelectric dams frequently have devastating social and environmental impacts on rivers and the people and ecosystems that depend on them. In the case of Mphanda Nkuwa, more than 1 400 people are expected to be displaced by the dam and its associated infrastructure and social and environmental justice activists estimate that it threatens to compromise the livelihood of 100 000 to 200 000 subsistence farmers and fishers living downstream.

In order to cater for periods of peak electricity demand in South Africa, the turbines in the dam will be required to operate intermittently, resulting in mini-floods twice a day and fluctuations in river level of 0.5 to 2.8 metres the effects of which will be felt hundreds of kilometres downstream.

Rising flood waters will erode some of the most productive farmlands and riverbank gardens on which locals depend for their food security. The mini-floods will also threaten downstream sandbanks and other important habitats for various bird, invertebrate and fish species.

The electricity generated by large hydroelectric dams isn’t even carbon neutral. Accumulating rotting organic matter which would normally be flushed downriver continuously causes the emission of significant quantities of greenhouse gasses.

Neither is it renewable since the reservoirs tend to gradually fill up with sediment, depriving the river and its floodplains of nutrients while steadily reducing the dam’s capacity. What’s more, scientists predict that lower precipitation due to climate change will lead to reduced flow rates of the Zambezi, threatening the long-term viability of the project.

Old news

All of this is old news. The UN has described the 2075MW Cahora Bassa Dam, built in 1974, as one of the most destructive major projects in Africa. Running at a financial loss, Cahora Bassa has caused reduced fertility and massive erosion downstream, led to the drying up of the Zambezi Delta, one of the continent’s most important wetlands, and contributed to a 60% decline in the important local prawn industry between 1978 and 1995.

Efforts to restore the disrupted ecosystems of the lower Zambezi by changing the water release patterns from Cahora Bassa to mimic natural river flows more closely will be made difficult by the construction of Mphanda Nkuwa. Yet the Mozambican government approved the dam before the environmental impact assessment has even been completed, stating that it would have no identifiable impact of the Zambezi Delta or local fisheries.

So what’s to be done? A national campaign to stop Eskom from buying hydroelectric power from Mphanda Nkuwa would be a good start. Without that, the project is dead in the water, financially speaking. Anabela Lemos, the director of the Maputo-based NGO Justicia Ambiental sums up the real distribution of benefits with candour: “Clean, decentralized energy for all should be the top priority, not damming the Zambezi to support energy-hogging industry and cities in South Africa.”

Nukes will dwarf the arms deal December 3, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Column, Environment, Nuclear Power, Politics, renewable energy, South Africa.
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Nukes will dwarf the arms deal

(This column was first published on 2010-10-27 at News24 here)

If government gets its way and goes ahead with building six new nuclear power plants (NPPs), the potential for graft and corruption will make the arms deal fiasco look like a silly squabble over small change. Tenderpreneurs and kleptocrats throughout the land must be licking their lips at the prospect of having their palms, wallets and bank accounts royally greased.

There are many good reasons why nuclear energy is not a good option for South Africa or anywhere else: the health risk associated with NPPs, the waste which remains lethally radioactive for thousands of years and for which nobody has found an acceptable storage solution, the threat of terrorist attack and nuclear weapons proliferation, the fact that uranium fuel is neither inexhaustible nor carbon-neutral, and more. But for those of you who aren’t convinced by these bunny-hugging and touchy-feely sentiments, the clincher should be the fact that nuclear power simply makes no economic sense.

Independent studies show that nuclear energy has never been able to compete with fossil fuels and increasingly can’t compete with renewable energy technologies on a purely financial basis. Not in the First World and certainly not in a developing country like ours where elite powerbrokers have consistently found it impossible to keep their greedy hands out of the coffers of mega-budget projects

The nuclear industry cannot survive without the financial support of the state anywhere in the world. Of the $151bn in government subsidies for the US electricity industry between 1943 and 1999, more than 96% went towards nuclear power. Since the early 1980s the US government has sunk over $90bn into developing a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada without success. In the UK it is estimated that decommissioning of the previous generation of British nuclear plants and their accumulated waste will cost £72bn or more in taxpayers’ money. In February, having spent more than R8bn with absolutely nothing to show for it, our own government finally decided to cut financial support for the ill-fated Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project.

Since the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance in the early 2000s, projected costs for new NPPs have increased two- to four-fold. Their construction is notorious for being over budget and delayed. By the end of last year, the Finish NPP being built on Olkiluoto Island by French state-owned multinational AREVA – a main contender for the South African nuclear bid – was more than three years behind schedule and at least 75% over budget. The only other NPP under construction in Western Europe at Flamanville in France is at least 20% over budget and two years behind schedule.

In an independent analysis of the South African situation, Rod Gurzynski has recently estimated that the total cost of a 1600MW NPP would come to around R100bn “all-in”. Among a number of criticisms, he points out that the consultants’ report on the cost of nuclear energy which was commissioned by the Department of Energy for the government’s 20-year Integrated Resource Plan does not seem to consider decommissioning costs or long-term high-level waste management and storage costs and therefore paints an entirely unrealistic economic picture.

Last month, researchers from Duke University in the USA showed that in North Carolina, which is nowhere near as sunny as South Africa, it is now cheaper to generate electricity using photovoltaic solar panels – possibly the most expensive of all renewable energy options – than by building new NPPs. So why are we still wasting time and money on even considering nuclear power as an option for South Africa?

In 1994, Trevor Manuel, then heading the ANC’s economic desk, said: “we shall not tolerate circumstances in which policy on issues as critical as a nuclear programme be confined to experts in dark, smoke-filled rooms.” In reality, however, that’s exactly how decisions are being made. A small but powerful lobby of special interest groups, including the nuclear industry itself, has the ear of the powers that be and we’ll have to shout a lot louder or we’ll all be burdened with an entire herd of radioactive white elephants soon.

14 Members of Earthlife Africa illegaly arrested December 2, 2010

Posted by Andreas in activism, Environment, Nuclear Power, Politics, Press Release, South Africa.
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(Thursday 2nd December 2010: 12h45)


Earlier today, fourteen members of Earthlife Africa ( Johannesburg ) were illegally arrested for participating in a legal picket in front of the Department of Energy’s (DoE) IRP2 Public Hearing in Midrand. The fourteen have been charged with ‘illegal gathering’ and ‘public indecency’ and are presently being held at the Midrand Police Station.

Despite the fact that according to the Gatherings Act of South Africa, any gathering of less than 15 people does not require prior ‘approval’ from police, Earthlife Africa (Johannesburg) had applied for and received, written approval for the picket from the JMPD several days ago.   Nonetheless, when the activists began their picket – to protest against the DoE moving forward with further coal-fired power generation projects and its stated intent to expand South Africa ’s nuclear power generation – they were summarily arrested by Midrand SAPS and forcibly carted off to the police station. Evidently, the charge of ‘public indecency’ was applied because the picketers were wearing bright clothing!

Earthlife Africa (Johannesburg) Director, Tristen Taylor has condemned the arrests as “a shocking example of abuse of police power … We were engaged in a legal protest over crucially important issues of interest to the South African public … this kind of action is totally unacceptable.”

For further information and comment contact:

TRISTEN TAYLOR on 084 250-2434