If you had the misfortune to live in South Africa these past few weeks you probably wouldn’t have had a clue that your enemy was not a hostile external country but employees of Eskom, the country’s electricity supplier. It says much for South Africa that we can save any potential invading force an enormous amount of trouble by destroying our own country.
And so it was that, as many sat in cold and darkness during the four hour plus Stage 6 loadshedding, many disgruntled employees of Eskom were dragging fellow female employees from their cars on the way to the Camden Power Station, threatening others with clubs, stones and petrol bombs and allegedly threatening to fire-bomb the homes of any Eskom employees who turned up for work. This was all possible thanks to the usual minimal police presence while the ‘Prat in the Hat’ was grabbing some publicity down in East London at a very sad pre-existing crime scene.
Some rather sophisticated sabotage was also taking place as Dirk Hermann, CEO of trade union Solidarity described to the City Press.
“They break the small glass panel in a gearbox through which the oil level’s checked. The oil then drains out slowly and, 10 or 12 hours later, the system trips. They close the supply of cooling water so that a boiler, pump or system overheats and they remove the pyrometers that measure the heat of the fire in the giant boilers, so that the unit trips. These are put back later, so no one knows what the cause was.”
Rather unsurprisingly, other union leaders deny that their members are responsible for sabotage despite 90% of union members at three Mpumalanga power stations ignoring their leader’s calls to return to work. With that sort of internal discipline why on earth would we believe anything NUMSA has to say on the matter?
As I write this, Stage 6 seems certain to return this week. That means long power outages with not enough time for batteries to recharge between outages for those fortunate enough to have a back-up system. Children unable to do homework, mothers unable to prepare meals, non-existent internet and no access to banking. And this is only the beginning. However, I heard on the radio that national security key-points such as ministerial housing complexes are not affected. So don’t expect things to change anytime soon comrades.
If you had the misfortune to live in Ukraine on the other hand you would have had a pretty good idea of who your enemy has been since late February this year. It’s a place called Russia and the heavily botoxed boss of that country, Vladimir Putin, thinks Ukraine should be part of mother Russia and so he is going to destroy whatever there is of the infrastructure of Ukraine so that, when or if he declares victory, all he has to do is rebuild the entire country and make it fit for purpose. Not the most sensible war strategy you might think but who am I to question what goes through a great man’s mind?
The problem with Ukraine is that virtually all the armchair ‘experts’ have been wrong. The ‘invasion’ went ahead despite various Russian experts saying it was highly unlikely that Russia would invade and the vast military activity on the Ukraine/Russia border were simply military exercises, albeit very large ones. Perfectly normal….nothing to see here…move along please.
When this proved to be utter nonsense the pundits then predicted a quick 72 hour operation to achieve Russian aims in the eastern part of the country and then it would all be over. Ukraine would realise that they were massively outgunned, give up and say take your damned bit of disputed territory back if you must.
That also didn’t happen and Ukrainian forces and many volunteers fought hard for their country. NATO members, not wanting to actually get involved with troop deployment decided to get involved in a proxy war by sending expensive armaments and logistical advice.
While this military aid has been welcomed by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky it has also been duly noted by Putin and Co. So while European countries are not technically at war with Russia they are supporting that war and should therefore be viewed as the enemy and punished. This Russia can do by cutting off the gas that supplies much of Europe energy needs during the winter. Germany currently relies on Russia for a third of its gas supply; a system that obviously worked well when relationships were running smoothly.
It’s not just a question of heating German homes in what often proves to be a long and cold winter though. Much of Germany’s heavy industry is dependent on Russian energy supply. According to Robert Habeck, the German economy minister, any sudden stop in Russian gas flows would trigger a domino effect: an economic crisis which he compares to the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
“Companies would have to stop production, lay off their workers, supply chains would collapse, people would go into debt to pay their heating bills and people would become poorer,’ he said last week. ‘It’s the best breeding ground for populism, which is intended to undermine our liberal democracy from within.”
Quite how a diplomatic agreement which would suit all parties without losing face can be put together before the European winter is beyond imagination.
One remote possibility is that the war ends and normal service is resumed but that seems unlikely. The most likely scenario is that the situation drags on interminably with deals being cut between individual countries.
Since the European countries evidently have no appetite for (and almost certainly can’t afford) full out war post COVID one also has to wonder when their enthusiasm to provide new weaponry will begin to wane.
After all, one has to ask what is in it for them apart from the very noble defence of democratic values? If Ukraine found itself under unwanted new management but still able and willing to provide all the exports it had previously, would those who had supported Ukraine refuse to do business? In the same way they ‘refuse’ to do business with China; probably the country with the worst human rights record of any on the planet.
Where the ‘armchair experts’ have been woefully wrong though is in the assumption that sanctions against Russia and the freezing of a handful of oligarch’s assets would soon change Putin’s ideas. In my Out to Lunch column of March 1st I expressed doubt that sanctions would have any effect because most countries can find a friendly back door through which to gain access to markets.
This would apply equally to the sale of Russian goods such as energy and commodity sources. As the world’s largest exporter of wheat and fertiliser and the second largest exporter of oil, Putin is holding some strong cards. Russia’s current account surplus is predicted to reach between $200 billion to $250 billion this year; twice what it was last year.
European voters, already under immense inflationary pressure from higher fuel and food prices, may be running out of sympathy for Ukraine. After all, it’s one thing to dance around Trafalgar Square on a warm summer’s day draped in a yellow and blue flag and quite another to be huddled in a freezing house in late November.
The other ‘what if’ question on European voter’s minds is what would happen if Putin got a bit bored and decided to push the war further west or launch a few missile attacks on those countries that have been funding the war against him?
My generation has never lived through a war. We have led pampered lives for the past 70 years as we have watched the value of our assets rise and the quality of our lives improve immeasurably. The idea of fighting ‘for Queen and country’ in the UK is about as absurd these days as predicting a revival of the Charleston.
So while showing support for an ugly war taking place in a country that very few Europeans have visited is currently popular it is about as effective as adding a hashtag on social media #stoptheukrainewar. The hashtag is the 21st century way of showing you deeply care about an issue. Once you’ve demonstrated your virtue you are free to move on to your next popular cause. But a hashtag doesn’t pose any real threat and Vladimir Putin knows that.