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Dunefield in the way of nukeplant March 18, 2008

Posted by Andreas in Environment, News, Nuclear Power, South Africa.
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We spend a few days in Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape recently. From where we were staying, you have a clear view of Thyspunt, one of the sites Eskom has proposed for a conventional (i.e. not a Pebble Bed Modular Reactor) nuclear power plant.

This picture of the dunefield is on the front page of the March edition of the St Francis Chronicle (excuse the amateurish cut-and-paste job):

SF1

The headline reads:

SF2

According to the accompanying story:

Access roads to the proposed Thyspunt nuclear site will need to cross the St Francis mobile dune field and attendant wetlands. This will result in untold damage to the dunes and wetlands, and could impact negatively on St Francis Bay, aggravating the town’s current storm water and flooding problems.

[…]

according to Professor Richard Cowling of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and a resident at Cape St Francis, […] the (Draft Scoping) Report should have eliminated Thyspunt as a site for the proposed nuclear facility (but of course this didn’t happen).

It’s great to see that there is growing local awareness of the problems associated with atomic energy. It’s unclear to me at the moment, however, whether the opposition of people in the St Francis Bay area is simply a matter of “not in my backyard”, or if it’s a principled stance against nuclear power in general. I hope, of course, it is the latter.

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Screw the pledge February 13, 2008

Posted by Andreas in activism, anarchism, Life, News, Parenting, Politics, rant, Society, South Africa.
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South Africa’s Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, has just unveiled the pledge which “will be recited during assembly in all schools”. Here it is:

We, the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.

We will respect and protect the dignity of each person, and stand up for justice.

We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our constitution and promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights.

!KE E:/XARRA//KE

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it. Sure, and I’m all for people reciting it as often as they like – with the emphasis very much on the word “like”.

In my opinion, forcing kids to regurgitate this, or any other “pledge”, every morning, whether they want to or not, turns the idea of committing ones self to certain principles into a cheap and meaningless exercise in pop psychology at best. At worst, it’s an attempt at brainwashing.

The whole thing will probably be counterproductive – I know I would have absolutely hated having to recite any formulaic pledge every day. What about kids who refuse to say the pledge? Will they be forced to, will they be punished, or identified as unpatriotic traitors and publicly humiliated?

If the country’s constitution is the issue, then let kids engage with it properly. Let them dissect it and critique it and take from it what they like… make up their own minds and then defend it if they feel that way inclined.

Really meaningful commitment to any idea can only come from a genuine personal investment, never from mindless indoctrination. Let the kids think for themselves – they are well capable of being compassionate human beings without being force fed even the most well-meaning formulae.

Besides, does anyone else find it just a tat ironic for these sorts of decrees to come from politicians – frankly (and yes I am generalising here), a bunch of people up to their elbows in corruption, regularly outed as criminals, who have just gotten rid of one institution (the Scorpions) that kept on exposing their dirty laundry. As far as influencing a future generation goes, I think their actions will speak louder than the words of any pledge.

Erwin: Alcan smelter to go ahead at Coega January 28, 2008

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Climate change, Coega, Environment, Global warming, News, South Africa.
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Just when you thought some of the people who make the decisions around here had seen the light, another idiot insists on wearing blinkers, sun glasses and a welder’s helmet all at the same time!

Alec Erwin, the Minister of Public Enterprises (don’t you just love him so!?) has put paid to the suggestion that the painfully stupid idea of letting Canadian giant company Alcan build an energy-draining aluminium smelter at Coega might be, well… really, really stupid. He was quoted in the Weekend Argus as saying:

There is no question of stopping contracted projects or freezing any new projects. Energy crisis… what energy crisis?

OK, I may have added the last sentence…

Support Independent Book Shops! December 7, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Life, News, South Africa.
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I love books and I love book shops. One of the most depressing things in recent years, no make that decades, has been the decline of independent book sellers in South Africa to the extent that the local book trade is now completely dominated by corporately-owned chain stores.

There is some hope for those of us who would rather support individuals who are passionate about what they do and do it to support themselves and their families, rather than contribute to the already gargantuan profits of yet another soulless mega-company that cares only about the bottom line and ever increasing profit margins.

There are independent book stores out there. You just have to look a bit harder to find them, but when you do, your book buying experience is guaranteed to improve immeasurably.

Last night, Mervyn Sloman, an old varsity friend of mine, opened a beautiful new, independent book shop, called The Book Lounge in Cape Town. It’s in a lovely venue on the corner of Buitenkant and Roeland. There’s a groundfloor and a basement, coffee and tea, couches to lounge on, a bunch of really friendly and knowledgeable book sellers and, of course, a great selection of books to choose from.

It’s an absolute must to check-out. If you love books and the idea of a book store as a place that’s much more than just an outlet for selling books, you’ll love it!

While I’m on the subject: for those of you who seldom make it into town, because you live on the False Bay side of the world, go and support Ann Donald’s Kalk Bay Books (on main road in Kalk Bay) – another beautiful and wonderfully independent book shop.

Robert Fisk bows out October 4, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, News, Politics, Society.
4 comments

It’s a sad, sad day and an indictment on the world we live in when someone like veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk assesses his own life’s work as a failure and as having had no impact. He’s just announced his retirement, basically saying “Screw this for a joke, nobody’s listening anyway!”.

He’s wrong, of course. He is one of a dying breed of truly “un-embedded” journalists in a sea of hacks regurgitating PR-branded, press-released, corporate, partisan and party-political garbage. This will be a poorer media world without his voice.

Watch this interview with him (thanks for the link Sam) and read my review of his recent book The Great War for Civilisation.

Global Day of Action Against Alcan September 12, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Coega, Environment, News, Press Release, South Africa.
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Press Release: Global Day of Action Against Alcan
Earthlife Africa Jhb
10th of September 2007

On the 12th of September 2007, Earthlife Africa Jhb and various community orgainsations will be marching on Alcan headquarters to protest Alcan’s preferential tariff rates and to demand increased basic access to electricity. This action is in conjunction with actions against Alcan, Rio Tinto, and Alcoa across the globe.

The march will begin at 10:30am at the corner of West & Rivonia in Sandton, Johannesburg. The march will end at Alcan’s office (Fredman Towers, corner Fredman and Bute, Sandton).

For the past two years, Earthlife Africa Jhb has consistently called upon the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Public Enterprises, Eskom and Alcan to disclose the details of electricity sales to Alcan for its proposed smelter. Both the South African Government and Alcan have hidden behind a profoundly anti-democratic clause in the Developmental Electricity Pricing Programme (DEPP). Alcan is the first foreign company to benefit from the DEPP, and has signed a 25 year deal for 1350MW supply of electricity.

What is the DEPP? Essentially, the DEPP provides for uniquely discounted electricity tariffs for foreign industries that are heavy consumers of electricity (over 50MW) in South Africa. In return for investment in South Africa, the DEPP will ensure that electricity tariffs are internationally competitive (our nearest competitor is Australia, which sells electricity at US$0.053 per kwh and is 30% more expensive) and that the industry in question can achieve an profitable internal rate of return; i.e. if electricity is a major overhead (such as in aluminum smelting), it the tariff will be low enough to ensure profit.

This is a significant incentive for heavy industry to invest in South Africa and is supposed to provide significant jobs. However, what it really does is commit Eskom to tariffs for heavy industry at a rate lower (or, at most, on par with the next cheapest supplier of electricity) than anywhere else. It is, in effective, a subsidy for foreign industries, similar to a tax break or import duty waiver.

The most worrying factor about the DEPP is the “built-in” secrecy clause. Eskom is a public enterprise, ultimately owned by the citizenry at large. However, the DEPP guidelines ensure that any contracts signed under the DEPP are to remain secret. This is profoundly anti-democratic. The DEPP states (clause 12.1):

All officials, employees or members of the Department, the adjudication committee, NERSA, Eskom and non Eskom distributors shall regard as confidential all technical information, records, particularly any strategic commercial information and all knowledge that pertains to any project that applied for benefits in terms of DEPP, whether such information is recorded on paper or in an electronic manner.

The very next clause (12.2) in the guidelines bounds individuals with knowledge about the contracts to silence for the rest of their lives.

If the DEPP is a method for promoting growth and development in South Africa, why then the secrecy? Why shouldn’t this be in the public domain? This clause gives foreign corporations like Alcan the right to build electricity-intensive industrial plant in South Africa, get electricity on favourable terms in relation to their expected rate of return, and not to have to tell the country at large what rate they purchased electricity from the South African state. Further, this clause seems at odds with the spirit of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, through a pre-emptive strike against the releasing of information.

The DEPP deal with Alcan means that the citizens of this country won’t know the answers to the following questions:

* What is the price of electricity agreed upon by Alcan and Eskom?
* What are the conditions of supply of electricity?
* Will the price paid to Eskom cover the indirect costs of smelter? For example, the environmental group TWIG has calculated that the indirect costs of harm to the environment based on Eskom CO2 emissions to supply the smelter with electricity would be R6.4 billion.
* Why doesn’t Eskom release its forward cost pricing curve, on a regular basis, as the anticipated costs of new plant escalate?
* Are promised future measures to account for externalised costs of electricity generation compromised by the deal or the DEPP?

Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon Eskom and Alcan to fully disclose all the details of their deal, including the actual price of electricity.

The fact that Alcan and the Government refuse to disclose these details is especially arrogant in light of the fact that 30% of South Africans are without electricity. Furthermore, the basic lifeline of 50kwh per month per household is entirely inadequate and downright miserly. If the South African Government can offer foreign corporations like Alcan electricity tariffs low enough to ensure profit, then surely it can provide the poorest of its citizens a meaningful allocation of electricity?

Therefore, Earthlife Africa Jhb calls upon Eskom and the Government to increase the basic allocation of electricity to 100kWh per person per month with a step-block tariff.

There ain’t no such thing as a green or clean car September 11, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, News, Society, Sustainable Living.
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… at least not in Norway, where new advertising guidelines are set to stop car manufacturers from claiming things they can’t back up with facts.

According to Bente Oeverli, a from the Norwegian office of the state-run Consumer Ombudsman,

Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others.

Read the full story here.

Interview about Alcan on Canadian radio September 3, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Coega, Environment, News, South Africa.
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Tristen Taylor, Energy Policy Officer for Earthlife Africa and a fellow blogger,was interviewed about the Alcan aluminium smelter planned for Coega on the Canadian radio station CKUT Montreal the other day. Alcan (recently bought by giant mining transnational Rio Tinto) is a Canadian company, hence the interest, I guess.

I think this is a really great interview. It explains some of the main concerns about the proposed smelter and examines various related issues. Very much worth a listen – in fact this kind of thing should be on public radio in SA.

You can download it here.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and the Breath of Fresh Air August 16, 2007

Posted by Andreas in News, Politics, Society, South Africa.
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My good friend Peter wrote this piece on the Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge debacle. I really like it, so here it is as a guest post:

The events of the past few days have made me realise that fresh air has been in short supply in South African politics these past few years. We got great gales of it in April 1994 when the people came out en masse to vote in the first ever democratic elections. The air then positively crackled for months, nay years, with the sheer possibility of everything. In air like that one could imagine seeing forever.

 

During recent years, however, the air thickened – not suddenly but gradually, imperceptibly. The open debate and difference we celebrated in the early years of the ANC government were quietly stifled. We gasped at individual examples of the government’s refusal to brook dissent within its ranks but we barely noticed as the bright flowers of mutual care and social invention in the service of others suffocated in the corner while the grand train of government whooshed past, sucking to itself all the oxygen of available public attention.

 

The stench of corruption, on the other hand, had become hard to avoid. We’d all become accustomed to hold our breath when entering certain conversations or turning on the news, to the point where we were at risk of passing on to future generations the ability to seal one’s nostrils instinctively in the presence of government officials.

 

No – breathing was becoming tough in Mbeki’s South Africa. Until today.

 

To understand the power of what has happened, first a little background. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Deputy Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2004 and of Health since then, is a hard-working, head-down, loyal member of the ANC – and, like many other ANC MPs, a senior member of the South African Communist Party at the same time. Nobody doubts that she deserves whatever prominence and leadership she has been accorded by virtue of her service to the anti-apartheid cause under harsh circumstances and in particular her unflagging advocacy of women’s rights.

 

She also happens to have a quality of personal integrity whose depths – at least in the public domain – are only now being properly fathomed. Though she has never been accorded much in the way of limelight, serving quietly behind more public Ministers, she has won the loyalty and devotion of most of those who have worked with her or come to know her. Then at the end of last year, with the widely unpopular Health Minister in hospital for a serious operation, Nozizwe was granted just enough space in which to make it clear to the public – long angered by the government’s half-hearted response to the AIDS epidemic – that she believed progress was too slow and promptly set about working with the NGOs to speed things up. The public made her a heroine and she very nearly lost her job.

 

Then a month ago she paid an unannounced visit to a hospital in one of the poorest parts of the country and was clearly shocked by what she saw. In particular she referred to the loss of over 250 babies in the past year – many through lack of resources or negligence – as “a national emergency”. Most ordinary citizens knew instinctively she was right. Mbeki and his Health Minister set out to declare her wrong. Once again she must have felt her bosses’ hot breath on her neck.

 

So when, last week-end, a national newspaper trumpeted that she was in hot water with the President for having undertaken a trip to Madrid with her 19-year-old son and an advisor from her office that the President had not authorised, my own and many others’ reaction was to think, “How foolish. She should have been more careful. She must have known the knives have long been out for her.” It seemed out of character for her to flout the regulations and the principles of good governance, but we’ve become so used to our politicians letting us down that we were prepared to believe that even she might have become the latest addition to that sorry list.

 

Then on Wednesday night we heard that, after refusing Mbeki’s request that she resign, she was fired. At last the game was out in the open. Public outrage erupted. Yet there were still nagging doubts as to whether she had in fact done wrong. Surely Mbeki, whose Cabinet is renowned as a place of forgiveness, where indiscretion or incompetence are rarely ever met with dismissal, would not fire her without due cause?

 

How wrong we were – and how happy we are to have been wrong! In a move that in itself signaled a fundamental break with the closed-rank tradition of the ANC, she called a press conference for today (Friday), to tell her version of events and answer questions. How the President and his Health Minister must have squirmed as they sat by their radios.

 

What did the public get? Fresh air. Great buckets of it. She threw open the doors and let the breeze of truth and the fragrance of accountability waft through the land. Here is a woman who, after serving eight years under a centralizing, all-controlling President, is not afraid of him. Rather, she trusts the people and her own sense of what is good for all of us. So she challenged Mbeki and his cohorts to explain exactly how they came by certain leaked documents from her office and how it was that she was told she had presidential clearance to fly just hours before a letter of refusal left Mbeki’s office, causing her to turn around at Madrid airport as soon as she became aware of it and, quite correctly, fly straight home again.

 

Using moderate language and in her steady, warm voice she let us understand that the knives had indeed been out for her for a while and that doing her work had become almost impossible. As she spoke and we listened, courage once more stalked the land, unlocking hearts, minds and lungs. Meanwhile, in the noses of our imagination we could detect the President starting to sweat. Was it possible, after so many years, that our generally dapper Emperor was not fully clothed?

 

Every great fairy story has a moment like this, when a table is turned and we the people, too long asleep, awaken to the call of one whose heart is pure. We suddenly remember we are glorious in our humanity, that our gift is to be brave and virtuous. We just needed a heroine to name the wicked step-mother’s poisoned apple for what it is. We knew it all along – we always do. But in our hearts we were timid and we allowed the heavy, pompous air that drifts down from the castle to lull us into lethargy.

 

As night falls on the Kingdom there is a wildness in the wind. Everything has changed.

 

Simons Town, South Africa
Friday 10th August 2007

Just Nuke’em August 14, 2007

Posted by Andreas in News, Nuclear Power, South Africa.
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OK, this may just be a case of semantics and perhaps there are mitigating excuses along the lines of “Sorry, but English is only our 3rd language”, or perhaps they just have the sickest sense of humour out there, but the fact that the German company that’s helping the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor company build their Pilot Fuel Plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria is called Nukem Technologies (I kid you not) just doesn’t sit quite right with my own sensibilities. What do you think? Here’s the news story.

Oh and while I’m at it (again) – here’s an uplifting (NOT) little story about Libya’s remaining uranium stockpile… charming.