chapter  7
14 Pages

South African electricity: a capitalist hub

Introduction In the context of this book as a whole, South Africa provides so many lessons that are applicable to the planet as whole. That makes a focus on South Africa highly pertinent to the broad concerns of this book at both the level of global warming and in particular its impact on the poor of the planet and at the level of the suite of problems more generally that capitalism brings in its wake. In the global drive for mineral resources and energy supplies, the African continent has become of major strategic importance (Buscher 2009), both as a source of minerals, fossil fuels and energy in the global economy and also as a site of capital accumulation. As the regional and expanding hegemonic power and dominant country in the electricity sector on the continent (McDonald 2009), South Africa can be expected to have an increasingly inÀuential role in Africa vis-à-vis the international arena, including around energy, global warming and the spread of capitalism. It is thus important to acknowledge the intricate relationship between electricity developments on the African continent and South Africa’s energy sector developments. McDonald (2009: xv) maintains that ‘electricity has become an integral part of all capitalist activity’ on the continent. South Africa clearly represents the disconnect between humanitarian policy rhetoric and the harsh reality of the capitalist model of economic development. On the one hand there is the acknowledgement of poverty, inequality and the pending crisis of global warming; on the other, the reality of the policies being implemented with the clear intent of growing the capital-intensive, fossil-fuelled sector of the economy, increasing the coal-based electricity supply and expanding the capitalist relations of production throughout Southern Africa. This disconnect can also be found in the arguments used by the South African government in climate change negotiations, where it has proposed unrestrained growth on the pretext of enabling the country to lift the poor out of poverty before putting a cap on emissions. The reality is that the neoliberal development agenda has resulted in a widening gap between rich and poor and the infrastructure for increasing the already high emissions trajectory is being further consolidated.