In January this year, the story broke that Eskom had contracted Swartberg Intelligence Services to conduct espionage on ordinary citizens around the Medupi power station, political parties, trade unions, and the dreaded environmental lobby axis of groundWork, Earthlife Africa, and Greenpeace Africa.
Eskom has confirmed that it did indeed contract Swartberg, and, after having being caught out employing private spooks, has terminated the contract. In 1965, Aldous Huxley stated that, “Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.”
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Greenpeace Africa and groundWork take the concepts of liberty and human decency seriously. We know what a society without liberty and infused with indecency is like: our country’s unfortunate history has been written in the pain and blood of unjust totalitarian state power.
So, when an organ of the state, in this case Eskom, decides to shred the Constitution and start spying on South Africans, we take that as a serious affront to our common liberation. The illicit abuse of state power to achieve Eskom's self-interested, profit-oriented aims degrades the concept of innate human dignity and liberty.
These are vital concepts and underpin the notions of human rights and democracy. When the energy utility spies on individuals and organisations, it transforms citizens into enemies of the state, seemingly unfit for the common and constitutional guarantees of full freedom.
This is a dangerous classification: the minute we place people into the category of less than fully human, we have made an important step on the road to a return to totalitarianism. Eskom's acts of espionage reflect a paranoid and bleak world view that dominates the upper tiers of its management, an 'us against the world' mentality.
Unlike Eskom, we understand that Eskom is a part of us. The state owns 100 percent of Eskom - making the utility’s fate our fate, and our suffering Eskom’s.
Our Constitution and our laws provide for the protection of human rights, the prevention of abuses of power, and freedom.
We cannot undertake the economic and social liberation of all South Africans or complete our transition to a multi-cultural democracy when a part of us responsible for generating and distributing our electricity is looking for reds under the bed.
Given the threat to democracy that Eskom's actions pose, Greenpeace Africa, groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg have called on the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) and the Public Protector to investigate and get to the heart of Eskom's undemocratic behaviour.
If we, as a society can do that, we should be able to change Eskom for the better. We can have an Eskom that understands and works towards the general will of the people of South Africa.
Our Constitution and our laws provide for the protection of human rights, the prevention of abuses of power, and freedom. That is the theory. We need to make it work in practice. Our state and our Eskom need to implement these cherished ideals: the alternative is something our children should have no experience of.
Frantz Fanon said: The national government, if it wants to be national, ought to govern by the people and for the people, for the outcasts and by the outcasts. No leader, however valuable he may be, can substitute himself for the popular will; and the national government, before concerning itself about international prestige, ought first to give back their dignity to all citizens, fill their minds and feast their eyes with human things, and create a prospect that is human because conscious and sovereign men dwell therein.
- Tristen Taylor is the Project Coordinator of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg. Bobby Peek is the Director of groundWork. Michael O’Brien Onyeka is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa. This article was first published by the SABC News. It is republished here with the permission of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.