THE theme for this year’s SciFest is “Discover Your Element”, which celebrates the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, as proclaimed by the United Nations.
South Africa’s National Science Festival, “SciFest Africa” from 6-12 March 2019 in Makhanda (Grahamstown), Eastern Cape, will also be celebrating its 23rd anniversary.
The theme also commemorates several anniversaries in the history of chemistry including the 150th anniversary of the periodic table’s creation by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, 350 years since the discovery of phosphorous, the categorisation of 33 elements in 1789 by Lavoiser’s and Döbereiner’s law of triads in 1829.
While the theme is chemistry orientated, it also encourages visitors to explore the many exciting exhibitions and workshops at #Scifest2019 to uncover their passion within the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
For the first time in Scifest Africa’s history, the 2019 festival will be curated by Dr Stephen Ashworth from the University of East Anglia (UK), who will also deliver the Brian Wilmot Lecture at the official opening of this year’s festival. Scifest Africa looks forward to welcoming the Department of Science and Technology delegation, led by Director-General Dr Phil Mjwara, who will give the official opening address.
Scifest Africa’s 2019 festival lecture programme offers a remarkable list of lecturers and researchers from South Africa and abroad, who will be sharing their wealth of knowledge with us. Many of our guest speakers are women, which pays tribute to the well-earned recognition and respect that these Women in Science have received thus far.
Notable speakers include theoretical physicist and Mars One Astronaut Candidate Dr Adriana Marais, Dr Daniel Cunnama (South African Astronomical Observatory), Dr Lotte Lens (Institute for Heavy Ion Research), Dr Robert Scerri (University of California). Dr Mathabatha Setati’s lecture is supported by the Department of Science & Technology’s Women in Science Award Programme. 15-year-old Eskom Expo for Young Scientists awardee of the Science Communication Prize, Lunga Nkosi, will also give a lecture on her latest ground-breaking research.
All interactive events that are not classified as exhibitions, lectures or workshops fall under the Etcetera section of the official festival programme. One such event is a special live show hosted by BBC World Service’s CrowdScience, where presenters Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia will be joined by a panel of experts to answer questions sent in by listeners on everything from space travel to solar power. Questions can be sent to: email@example.com.
WHEN Medupi and Kusile were announced by our government in 2004 and 2007 respectively, the two coal-fired mega-projects were both seen as emblematic of South Africa’s democratic progress — key to the ruling alliance and its plans for the future.
The ruling labour-left coalition was at the height of its power. With its roots in the victorious anti-apartheid struggle, it had made no secret of its desire for a ‘mixed economic model’, in which a socialist command economy would prevail alongside the capitalist economy, and where the energy sector, would imitate policies from the days of the former Soviet Union. What could possibly go wrong?
According to Pretoria technocrats, a new era of cheap coal would herald in cheap and plentiful electricity with which to ‘build the nation’. Both consumers and workers would benefit. The latter from long-lived and extended public works programmes centred around coal, which in turn would drive salaries and feed households which had experienced some of the worst ravages of apartheid ‘separate development.”(1)
Thus it was that these two projects ballooned into costly engineering exercises, as complexity driven by the technocrats, bureaucrats and party officials, armed with Marxist texts and presidential directives, ruled the day. That Marxists tend to overtheorise economic problems, relying upon ideas such as ‘dialectical materialism’ and the ‘labour theory of value’ to arrive at their conclusions, in effect the triumph of ‘ideology over pragmatism’, has already been remarked upon.
What has not been said in the mainstream media is the manner in which unions such as COSATU, emboldened by socialist think-tanks such as the AIDC whose research is anything but lopsided (2), and with a culture of intolerance for differences in opinion, quixotically feed unemployment, climate change and the national debt. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, South Africa’s coal ambitions have instead risen and include plans for at least several new coal plants such as Thabametsi, each one able to take our country into poll position as one of the top GHG emitters in the world.
Eskom’s coal-fired power plants persistently and significantly violates the air pollution limits in its licences.
“The main cause of its troubles” say Adjunct Professor Rod Crompton, is Eskom’s decision “to build two of the biggest coal fired generating plants in the world, (Medupi and Kusile). These plants are running way behind schedule, they’re over budget and the bits that are complete don’t work properly. They are probably the single largest disaster in South Africa’s economic history.”
Medupi is literally drowning in ash. The result of socialist bureaucrats implementing design changes via committee without sufficient input from scientists and engineers, whom they invariably ignore. This lack of concern for evidence-based research and scientific methodology in favour of ‘political education’ is not a new one, witness the failed Afro 4000 train debacle .
An editorial published by Engineering Weekly for example, debunks concerns from COSATU and others, surrounding loss of jobs due to renewables, and yet the union continues to demand a state-owned power utility on steroids, with little concern for loss of jobs in the broader economy and the tragic impact upon the livelihoods of those affected by outages and inefficiency.
“There is considerable support in South Africa” says Tobias Bishof-Niemz for the notion that a transition in the electricity system from coal to renewable energy will trigger a jobs bloodbath at both Eskom and the Mpumalanga coal mines. A detailed analysis of the job numbers, however, suggests quite the opposite. In fact, it points to there being at least 30% more jobs in a fleet comprising solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind farms when compared with an energy-equivalent coal fleet”
Meanwhile the brazen union federation staged a protest march this week, in response to the President’s plan to unbundle Eskom, in effect calling for Eskom and its mounting debt, to be supersized. Unbundling alone may not be enough to offset the crisis. Creating completely separate, independent and regional power utilities able to compete with each other would have a better chance of survival.
(1) See Rudzani Mudogwa’s recently published defense of coal which relies heavily on statements made by Gwede Mantashe.
(2) An article doing the rounds in the local press purporting to be by “Dr Sweeney, an AIDC visiting researcher, with the City University of New York’s ‘School of Labor and Urban Studies’,” claims splitting up Eskom ‘will result in privatization’. If one follows the logic of the argument presented, it is the West (including NY City) that is in the grip of rolling blackouts and massive debt run-up by Energy Companies since they were unbundled from the State. No citations, case examples nor evidence is provided by the ‘researcher’.
Eskom is by far the largest of South Africa’s many state owned companies. This near monopoly power utility is in crisis. It’s the single largest threat to South Africa’s economy, according to a former minister of finance. Adjunct Professor Rod Crompton explains:
APPARENTLY the #SABC #Primedia and #SterKinekor will ‘have to pay millions of rand in penalties for cartel behaviour’ says the Competition Commission. The companies have apparently admitted to the charges.
The findings related to the way tickets are sold and the decision, fails to tackle the larger problem of real cartel behaviour in the media.
A year ago, the Competition Commission announced that it was investigating 28 media companies, including Media24 for collusion on advertising pricing.
Compcom has a habit of narrowing the focus of its investigations.
In 2015 Medialternatives exposed a major cartel active in South Africa’s media, the work of several Afrikaner businessmen, and all impacting upon newsroom censorship and the way the nation receives its news.
We also documented the changing fortunes of the cartel in 2017.
The commission however, has yet to make any determination regarding a complaint of a cross-linked, networked behemoth that emanates from the brains behind Rupert Bellegings.
THAT IT would all go so horribly wrong for the African National Congress is best demonstrated by comments made by Moletsi Mbeki on national television. The ANC he says is really a conglomeration of competing, ‘factions acting in their own self-interest’.
What unites the party, aside from its competing sectarian and nationalist aims, is its avowedly ‘socialist character’. Problem is, wherever socialism has been tried in Africa, it has failed. Whether Tanzania under Nyerere, or Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, South Africa’s experiment with socialism and the so-called ‘mixed economy’ under the ANC has fared no better.
While a successful roll-out of a social wage, has arguably made the ruling party, the envy of the rest of Africa, the word socialism itself, does not appear in the party’s constitution as such.
Socialism so far as the ANC is concerned, and as its policies demonstrate, has more in common with the socialism (or volkskapitalisme) under the former white Nationalist regime, than multifarious examples across the continent. In both instances, economic policies aimed at reducing inequality (in the latter example, the inequality experienced by poor white Afrikaners) ended up unfairly benefiting the party faithful — well-positioned insiders who sought to ‘take control of the commanding heights of the economy’, and who in turn created opportunities for graft, self-enrichment, maladministration, corruption and ‘state capture’.
“The reason why a socialist system can never work” saysi “is the trade-off that has to happen at the heart of it – individual liberty in exchange for more power given to the state.” The fatal flaw inherent to party centrism and a dominant government promoting statism, (read ‘economic intervention’ via ‘state-owned-enterprises’) — has been endless bureaucracy, fruitless and wasteful expenditure and a never-ending litany of corrupt officialdom.
The latest revelations from the Zondo commission paint an appalling picture of a socialist-leaning administration in which political bribes of well-known politicians, cabinet members and officials have become the order of the day, and not merely during the tenure of Jacob Zuma but also under current and prior administrations and thus grand larceny by, and on behalf of, socialists — ideologically-driven corruption which continues to manifest under the Ramaphosa government.
The Bosassa debacle comes after the revelations of the VBS bank saga, and the 2018 indictment of former president Zuma on corruption charges. For analysis of the impact on the economy, one need look no further than the corruption scandals plaguing South Africa’s SOEs in effect all ‘State-owned bureaucracies’.
Eskom on its own has created a massive and embarrassing debt bubble, which risks upsetting the entire economy, and whose economic fallout is still being bankrolled by consumers locked into demands for annual 15% pa rates increases. Latest figures, show a massive impending R100bn bailout by treasury.
The central party, unable to deliver coherent economic policy, hamstrung by unions hooked on fossil fuels, oil and gas cartels, and equally inept socialist partners, and compounded by the perceived need to reign in a boisterous far-left opposition grouping, has resorted to ‘lekgotla‘ after lekgotla‘, each one promising action.
A party plenary held over the weekend, promised to finally to breakup the state power supply entity into competing parts, all begging the question as to why a lot more was not accomplished in the past 25 year of ANC rule to boost efficiency, and at very least avoid the current dire situation?
DEAR older generation. You were wrong about apartheid, you were wrong about same-sex marriage, and you were wrong about dagga. When the Western Cape High Court affirmed the rights of all citizens to the use and cultivation of dagga in the privacy of our own homes, thus suspending the drug laws for two years and allowing Parliament to amend the legislation, it corrected an historical wrong committed by the past regime.
Then when the apex court of our country, the Constitutional Court, affirmed the High Court ruling and extended these protections, it read parts of the decision into law, granted dagga users the right to carry the herb without fear of arrest and opened the door for the ‘dagga economy’ surrounding the herb.
Thus cannabis (or dagga as it is known in South Africa) was moved from the realms of the narcotics act into the ambit of the liquour licensing regime. Our Parliament is still debating exactly how to go about regulating certains aspects to do with the medicinal and commercial use of the herb, and the sale and commercial exploitation of the plant remains a grey area so far as the law is concerned.
It was thus that a groundbreaking High Court decision this month resulted in serious charges brought some time ago, against a dagga activist and DIY hydroponics expert, being squashed.
While the concourt decision was proscriptive rather than retroactive, the High Court clearly saw the social mores of the time as being more persuasive than the previous period of prohibition. More importantly the decision pronounced upon the role of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) in harrassing growers, and thus the proportionality of the ‘dagga crimes’ in a case which had not yet been proven by the state, and where the state attorney had in effect jumped the gun in seeking forfeiture of the residence of one Richard Kraak.
Several articles appearing in the mainstream online media have appeared to punt the commercial benefits of dagga. One article went so far as suggesting mechanisms for investors keen to get in on the action, and the benefit to the broader economy, while others extolled the virtues of the inaugral Cannabis Expo, an event currently being held in Jozi and set for Cape Town later next year.
How the mighty moral police and their religion-inspired vice squad have fallen upon tough times, one can only remark here that a similar sequence of events followed the legalisation of porn after the end of apartheid — the death throws of the regime in which women’s breasts and nipples were only to be seen behind the shiny stars covering them in men’s magazines.
Similar festivals around South Africa appeared to have gone by without a hitch, but expect more information on this topic. Police continue to terrorise the communities of Sedgefield and Knysna. Despite setbacks, Dagga synonymous with the counter-culture surrounding the anti-apartheid movement has certainly returned for good, as has the feel-good vibe which immediately followed our nation’s liberation.
Those old enough to remember the likes of James Phillips aka Benoldus Niemand, may recall that the apartheid state pilloried activists as mere ‘drug-users’ — cannabis hooked social deviants wanting to create mayhem to overthrow the state.
Law and order was thus contingent upon the banning of people’s consciousness — our innate rights to freedom of thought alongside the right to privacy. See Thembisa Waetjen’s excellent historical appraisal here.
Alongside the Botha government’s Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the narc squad and thought police, armed with an ideology supplied by the NGK, decreed race segregation to be divinely inspired by God, Cannabis to be the work of the Devil himself, and the Afrikaner grip over the African hinterland the result of a “Covenant at Blood River”.
How times are a changin.
When the ruling ANC finally came into power, there was every indication that dagga-smoking revolutionaries were going to legalise the herb whilst recognising the contribution to the struggle by Bob Marley and the Jamaican Defense Force.
Instead, activists like Trevor Manual exchanged their berets, dashikis and the proverbial stash, for bespoke suits, and the joys of fine champagne and cognac. The transformation of the liberation movement into a political bureaucracy built upon corporate largesse meant that adopting the white man’s laws alongside certain UN conventions supporting prohibition was paramount.
All of this toenadering came tumbling down this week, as yes, one Jacob Zuma appeared in the dock.
SOME TEN months ago, I published The End of the Anthropocene, my response to the H20 Day Zero crisis in Cape Town. Needless to say, it got people talking about climate change in a new way.
The resulting global debate around extinction has been simply phenomenal.
Not only did the IPCC released an alarming report in October, warning of the dangers of 2-3 degree climate change, in effect demanding drastic action, followed by a report by 13 federal agencies presenting ‘the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States itself’ but the naturalist Sir David Attenborough was moved last week to issue a statement that climate change is ‘humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years’.
A number of science reports issued this week confirm the shift towards temperatures last seen during the Eocene, which was some 18 degrees hotter on average than today.
Future global warming may eventually be twice as warm as projected by climate models and sea levels may rise six metres or more even if the world meets the 2°C target, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries.
Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil around the world.
The BBC reported Attenborough’s statements at the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks
Climate Change, he said ‘could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of “much of the natural world”.
Thus we can only congratulate the rise of an allied environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, which also intends making waves around the world.
The movement advocates direct action and civil disobedience in defence of human habitat.
“We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. The government has failed to protect us. To survive, it’s going to take everything we’ve got” say Extinction Rebellion.
Meanwhile, our own inept and scandal plagued department of environmental affairs, released a half-hearted statement reiterating the national position on climate change and calling for a ‘just transition to renewables’ amidst ‘aggressive awareness campaigns.’ GHG emissions however grew at an accelerating pace this year.
I’m afraid this type of DEAT public relations hot air in the face of intransigence by our energy minister isn’t going to cut it, and rather a change of government is required.
Extinction rebellion demands:
- The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
- The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
- A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.