Image credit: The South African
By Andile Mngxitama
It is exactly 21h30. I promised to come live on Facebook at this time and speak to you about electricity and to answer the big question: is free electricity possible? This is really in response to those who have been attacking the people of Soweto saying that they must pay for electricity. Our argument is that Soweto is right. Free electricity for all is possible. And the objections to the people of Soweto not paying for electricity are not based on any evidence or information. It’s just based on the idea that it’s not possible.
So today I want to talk about electricity. I greet you all…
I want to start by simply going back to the idea of Karl Marx that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class.
The problem we have is that we have all internalized the ideas of the ruling class. And please the ruling class is not the ruling party. The ruling class owns the means of production and in South Africa (SA) the ruling class is white monopoly capital (WMC). The ruling class controls everything. It controls the judiciary, the executive, it even controls parliament because we all know that they make the money available for people to run in the elections. So in the last elections for instance the African National Congress (ANC) spent about R1Billion (that’s besides the R1Billion given to Cyril Ramaphosa), the Democratic Alliance (DA) spent about R800 million, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) spent about R500 million – all that money came from the ruling class. The ruling class is WMC. It is white people.
I want to move from this idea that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. And in SA if the ruling class is WMC, the dominant ideas of WMC become the ideas of society – ideas that you internalize yourself. Let me give the crude example. In feudalism where there was this divine rights of Kings – the hierarchy was the King (Monarchs), the Clergy (Church), Lords/Ladies (Nobles), Knights, and Peasants/Serfs.
The ideas from the divine rights of Kings were the ideas of the ruling class which was internalized by everybody, including the Serfs who were working for free. This idea was simply that it is God who has determined that there must be an hierarchy; you are at the bottom by the will of God, working for free; you are a slave; and you are serving the interests of the seat of God.
Under capitalism the same thing applies – the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class and they make you stupid.
If you think about the serf in the feudal system- he’s a guy who works for free. I mean literally he’s a slave. He thinks, “I must be a good servant of God, I must work for free, I must be a slave because God says so.” He’s thinking he’s serving God. So he becomes a fool by internalizing the ideas of the ruling class.
So where I’m going is that in SA today, the ideas of the ruling class, of WMC, is the commodification of everything. In other words, we must buy stuff. This is the idea of the ruling class – we must buy stuff, there are no freebies.
They create a very negative connotation around so called freebies, that freebies only applies to or what we give to poor people, to black people. Do you know that WMC gets freebies all the time. People don’t know that for example, when there was the global financial meltdown – it also happened in SA. Take one example, the African Bank. The African Bank is a white owned company, it’s not black owned. It was run down by bad management. At that time it had huge financial problems. Do you know that that bank was on it’s knees and the government bought 50% of the bank to save it. In other words money from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) – money from the state, freebies – were given to a private entity to save it so that white capital can continue to exist and make a profit. But no one turned around and said “ahh it is freebies, it’s going to create dependency, it’s not affordable.”
A lot of the people who are saying that this stuff is not affordable are just regurgitating the ideas of the ruling class. They have no knowledge whatsoever about anything they are talking about. They just think that it’s not possible because the dominant idea says that you can’t give people stuff.
There’s a big argument for why we must give people free electricity. The first is a moral and ethical argument. Just like free education. Just like free healthcare. It’s not a question of costs. It’s a basic need. It’s a basic right. Therefore you must give it to the people.
Free education is a right; free healthcare is a right; free electricity is a right; and we must get these things without paying for them.
If you argue for affordability – then you will be saying that people must not get these rights. You will argue against healthcare for instance by saying that, that stuff is expensive. You will ask: who is going to build the hospital? whose going to buy the medicines? whose going to pay the doctors? If you start from the premise of costs, then you’ll say people don’t have rights.
To this end, it’s an ethical and moral argument for why electricity must be given to us for free.
Let us just go to affordability. A lot of the fools who say electricity can’t be given for free don’t know that in SA 90% of of energy, of fuel, comes from coal. People don’t know that there’s no manufacturer of coal, it’s a God given product. You just go and take it out of the ground. God has given you coal for free. Just like if you move to clean energy, being solar and air – these things are for free.
Let me just tell the fools that in SA it is the government that gives the money to start the mine. Let me repeat that – in SA if you want to start a big coal mine you go to Eskom and ask for money. They give it to you. Then you take Eskom’s money, which is our money, and you start a mine to mine coal coming from the ground, for free. And then from our money, you take the coal out of the ground and you sell it back to Eskom from money that comes from us and you, Mr Fool, are sitting there saying it’s not possible to have free electricity when already you are paying for the electricity to be generated. It is not private capital that is paying a cent for it. It is just making money out of you and you have these people who speak a lot of things that they don’t know about because they have internalized the ideas of the ruling class. And these ideas of the ruling class makes those of us who are not part of the ruling class stupid because it is absolute rubbish thinking and internalizing this notion that you can’t do good for people because it is not affordable. You’re saying this stuff without no information whatsoever because the ruling class have told you that everything must be bought, everything is a commodity. Healthcare is a commodity, they sell it to you and then you make them rich and of course you make them poor as well.
Coming back to SA the point that I’m driving is this- in this country there’s no reason whatsoever why we should not have free electricity because this electricity is generated from coal which is a God given free product. Not only that Eskom makes money available to create mines which take the coal given to us by God from the ground and then sells it back to us.
I just want us to deal with this stupidity. Instead of us saying that we support Soweto, that Soweto people are correct to demand free electricity for household needs and this must be done for everybody – we are saying that we want Soweto to pay for electricity because we are paying. In other words instead of saying we don’t want to pay; electricity must be given to us for free; and it is possible for the State to pay for giving it to us; and Soweto is right in not paying for it so we also don’t want to pay, we are mobilizing ourselves against Soweto. We are talking about free electricity for household consumption. Industry on the other hand, must pay very high tariffs to use energy because energy is generated by the State.
Now for household consumption, we are talking about 30% of the energy generated so it’s possible that we can get this energy for free. If we disaggregate this 30% we will find that white suburbs use more than black households.
What people don’t know is that one company, BHP Billiton – I’ll come back to explain this during the week – consumes about 10% of all energy that we produce in SA and it pays shockingly less than what you and I pay as consumers of electricity for household needs. This company has a deal with Eskom to consume 10% of the total energy produced and paynshockingly less than you and I. And I’m going to give you that information during the course of the week. This goes to show that it’s possible to give people energy for free in SA.
I just want to deal with the suggestion that we must punish Soweto, and Soweto must pay because we are all paying. No, you are paying because you are not resisting. Your job is to resist, just like Soweto and to insist that electricity must be given to everybody for free for household consumption. What’s wrong with that? But, as I have said, we have been stupefied by the ideas of the ruling class which we have internalized.
The biggest problem here is not the cost. The biggest problem here is not affordability. The biggest problem here is the internalization in our heads of the ideas of the ruling class. This makes some people say, as they have said on my wall, “it’s not possible, who will pay”. But you are already paying – this coal is being paid for by the State with our money. If you want to start a mining company in SA you just go to Eskom and tell them this. They’ll give you a 40 year deal. They’ll prepay you. People don’t know that prepayment means that you get paid in advance before delivering one coal. You have all this money which you use to actually build this mine and coal comes from God. The same with clean energy – we have the IPPS which will take money from the state (me and you) and generate this so called clean energy (which we know is free) which now your government (your President) says they can sell to us directly. When this happens you’ll see hell because once they achieve this commodification of energy, it will make them the biggest generators of energy. They will determine the price (we’ll talk about competition). You will pay from the nose. And even if you don’t have the money they’ll shut down immediately because it will be a complete commodity. But it’s not a question of affordability. It’s a question of them taking from us our natural resources for sale to us so that they can get profit but we have no manufacturer of coal. God had already manufactured the coal for our use and our government gives them the money to set up these mines which sells back to us the energy generated from our coal, from our money.
And these people who think they are clever because they’ve internalized the ideas of the ruling class which makes them completely stupid are the ones who are generating this hostility instead of showing solidarity with Soweto, instead of saying to the whole nation let us also be like Soweto, let us get free electricity because it is possible.
There’s no argument here for the “affordability problem“. It’s stupidity. It’s people who read the newspapers and have internalized this idea that everything must be bought, everything is a commodity, nothing is for free when in fact capital is taking our money for free. I don’t have time to go into how capital is avoiding taxes but I think the example I made with the African Bank is instructive – everytime there’s this crisis of capital, whether it’s the mining, manufacturing or banking sectors – they come to government for money which they get. They don’t call it freebies. They don’t look down upon it. They don’t create these negative connotations. But when people get from these God given goods we are vilified, “you want freebies”.
Well the capitalist system depends on freebies which are part of our labour, part of the profits which they take from us to generate this wealth. But as far as energy is concerned we stand with Soweto. Soweto is correct. In fact half the time Soweto said that they just want to pay a flat rate. We say, pay nothing! Electricity for household consumption must be for free. SA, we know for a fact can afford it. And we can stop load-shedding tomorrow by simply making sure that BHP Billiton stops consuming 10% of the electricity. They pay less than you and I. This is a big foreign company which has a deal with Eskom. Basically they are going to get this free electricity until 2028 and this has been going on for more than 20 years. I’ll talk about this at some time during the week.
But the point I want to make is this: Soweto is correct, we must be like Soweto. Free electricity is possible. Stop being a fool and a stupid and a promoter of the ideas of the ruling class which are basically harmful to the interests of the people.
I don’t think there’s a counter argument to the argument that electricity in SA should be given for free and it can be afforded. That’s it. Thanks for watching.
Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization. The above is a transcript of a live broadcast yesterday on the Facebook page of the BLF President.