South-African universities left without power for hours each day

On the Internet, I read that the Dutch Minister for Climate and Energy Policy, Rob Jetten, would like to reduce our use of electricity during the day. I chuckle a little. I've been staying on the campus of Stellenbosch University, in South Africa, for a few weeks now, where I work with a colleague on a sort of biography of the institution, based on the honorary doctorates that have been awarded since 1919.

Here, people are used to the phenomenon of load-shedding. People back home told me even Dutch newspapers have written about it. Basically, you can download a schedule from Eskom, the South-African energy giant, which shows you when you can expect not to have any electricity. It can be, for example, from 8:00 am to 10:00 am, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and from 10:00 pm to 12:00 pm. The schedule is constantly being adjusted, and people adhere to it. I can't say otherwise.

That is, of course, a disaster for a modern university with a lot of laboratories (the very first analyses of the omicron variant came from here!) However, people seem to have adjusted well to the circumstances: when there is no electricity, the generators on campus immediately start roaring.

Load-shedding also says something about the society where I find myself now. I just called Eskom, which was founded before apartheid to propel the young union into much-needed industrialisation, an "energy giant". But when you ask the people here, many will tell you that the company is almost bankrupt due to mismanagement and corruption. Others will agree that it is a giant and they will tell you that it now has a white CEO again. The contradictions in this county run deep. They run along colour and money. People expect the African National Congress (the party of former president Nelson Mandela, Ed) to have a hard time in the next elections, especially due to the energy crisis. Besides, there is another huge problem in Johannesburg and other cities in the east: no water!

I live in an apartment on the campus in a rather noisy student environment. Stellenbosch University used to be the flagship of the apartheid regime. All prime ministers from that time received an honorary doctorate or were somehow connected to this university, which was considered an "Afrikaner" institution. Take Verwoerd, a true apartheid ideologist (born in Amsterdam, by the way) who started as a Professor at Stellenbosch. After 1990, the university has been through a rough transition phase with many heated debates, gradually transforming itself into a modern-looking, internationally acclaimed university in the strange and rich village of Stellenbosch.

Every morning I walk from my little apartment over Victoria Street towards the institute (which used to be the Wilcocks building, but that was someone from the past regime, so now it’s called Krotoa building) where I work (and have access to electricity the entire day). I see a lot of young people on the street. Almost without exception, they seem to be coming from wealthy families (both white and black). It looks like the university has transitioned from an Afrikaner, exclusively white university of the past to a multi-coloured, dominantly English-speaking university rather well. All official designations are written in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, a sharp contrast with the former English-speaking University of Cape Town. Right now, the papers are filled with articles about the fierce political battle going on at that university, which is also fought emphatically along the lines of colour.

But that doesn't mean you don't see poor people on campus at all. They are there, but not as students. Instead, they are the ones scouring the rubbish bins, looking for something to eat.

Minister Jetten, come and have a look here. Load-shedding might be a good solution!


Tags: energie