This week has seen a clash of scientific method with socio-historical reality and the death of a brilliant and heroic scientist. Prof Stephen Hawking managed to overcome the confines of his body, not just with his ground-breaking theorisation but through his political commitments. Hawking was a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel and a defender of Britain’s public health system, his longevity a testimony to the success of the NHS.
Science would not so readily lend itself to progressive causes in South Africa. Amidst the excitement around land expropriation without compensation, one of the country’s experts on land and agrarian studies, Prof Ben Cousins, insisted that unequal ownership and utilisation of land be viewed through accurate data. Ditch the ideological claims that cloud the facts and quieten the politics that make South Africa’s reality so unequal and violent, Cousins argues. It’s a pity professor, to let science stymie justice.
NUMSA finds itself in a rear-guard battle to protect jobs in coal-fired power stations and oppose Eskom signing agreements with independent power producers (IPPs). The union has stated that there can be no move to renewable energy without the protection of jobs in existing, coal-fired plants. The union has highlighted that the country already has excess energy supply and that by supporting IPP renewable energy projects, Eskom and the government will be effectively privatising energy in the interest of big capital and causing job losses. The danger for NUMSA is that it could inadvertently find itself in dubious alliances with the representatives of coal mines and installations (Transform RSA) and appear to be against its own policy position in support of renewable and environmentally friendly energy production. There are also fears and suspicion that like President Zuma before him, Cyril Ramaphosa and senior ANC leaders and their family companies (Patrice Motsepe, Jeff Radebe) will stand to benefit from this massive state investment of R56bn in renewable energy IPP programmes.