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Dr RL Straszacker
 R L Stasz​acker


Reinhardt Ludwig Straszacker was born in the Orange Free State in 1910. He was a gifted chess player from a young age. At the age of 15 years he matriculated at Vrede High School and in 1929 he graduated in mechanical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand with a cum laude tied to his B.Sc (Eng.), and was also awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Medal.


In 1930 he received the Union’s post-graduate scholarship for study overseas and, after obtaining his M.Sc (Eng.) in 1931, he continued his studies at the Technische Hochschule Charlottenburg, Germany. From this institution in 1933 he obtained a Dipl. Eng. cum laude, and a year later the degree of D.Eng. summa cum laude on the thesis "Potentialströmung durch Spiralgehäusen" (Potential flow through spiral casings).

In 1935 he accepted a lectureship in Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand where he remained until 1941, when he was offered a senior lectureship at the University of Stellenbosch. At Stellenbosch he assisted in the establishment of the Engineering Faculty, and at the same time pioneered an engineering terminology in Afrikaans. In 1944 he was suitably rewarded with a professorate, a position which he held until he took over the chairmanship of ESCOM in 1962.


Those 21 creative years at Stellenbosch emerge as the period that most strongly moulded Dr Straszacker: his intellect and personality found full expression, his abilities came to be recognised in ever-widening fields as evidenced by his appointment to the Boards of several companies.

So, for example, the report of the Decimalisation Committee of the Standards Council of which he was Chairman formed the basis for the decimilisation of South African currency. He also rendered a distinguished service as chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Methods of Training for University Students in Engineering.


In 30 June 1962, J T Hattingh’s term of office as chairman of ESCOM ended and for the first time the search for a new chairman extended beyond ESCOM. Times were changing, and it was necessary to inject some new thinking into an organisation that was to face new challenges.

The choice of chairman fell on Professor Reinhardt Ludwig Straszacker, a slight and self-effacing academic affectionately known as "Strazzie" – although never called that to his face – most people referred to him as "doctor" or "professor" or even "the prof". Dr Straszacker was an obvious choice for this position. Straszacker had been a member of ESCOM’s Commission since 1952 when J T Hattingh became chairman. So he was not a stranger to the issues that faced the organisation. When approached for the chairmanship, he was concerned about his lack of business experience, but he accepted that there would be many capable people to help him with that. Mollified, he agreed to "give it a try".

This office was, however, to make even greater demands on him, for at that stage the electricity supply industry in South Africa was entering a new and decisive phase of its development. Decisions had to be made which were to have a far-reaching effect on the entire pattern of electricity supply in Southern Africa.

Dr. Straszacker undertook his task with devotion and thoroughness. As a member of the Commission during the preceding ten years he gained first-hand knowledge of the problems and needs of the electricity supply industry. Backed by a razor-sharp critical and analytical mind, resolute determination an unostentatious self-assurance, he tackled his onerous task as an engineer and not as a scientist. For, as he once stressed, "the engineer must bring the analytical elements into a whole which is more than the sum of the individual elements. The analytically-inclined person has got to fight for coming back to the synthesis, because the elements themselves are not the end results".

This credo was to form the basis of Dr Straszacker’s approach to his difficult task. In subsequent years he was to analyse the elements of the electricity supply industry one by one, arrange them anew and eventually combine them to complete the synthesising process.

He realised immediately, for instance, that electricity supply should be planned more systematically and in the longer term. In various addresses he emphasised the necessity for utilising the Republic’s various power resources on a co-ordinated basis. Early in 1966 he charted the future of the electricity supply industry up to the end of the century, and thus laid the foundations for the co-ordinated planning of power supply throughout the Republic.

Shortly after assuming office, he opened the annual congress of the Association of Municipal Electricity Undertakings of South Africa in Margate and thereby prepared the way for close co-operation between the municipalities and ESCOM.


The growing demand for electricity also caused a rapid geographical expansion of the various undertakings until they had a least one common boundary with another undertaking. This paved the way for the decision to establish a national power grid using 400 kV lines. The Orange River Project accelerated this decision, as the hydro-power inherent in this project would fit in well with such a grid.


The national grid also inaugurated the integration of power resources. In 1966, under the guidance of Dr Straszacker, negotiations were entered into with the Portuguese regarding the importation of electricity from the great Cabora Bassa (now Cahora Bassa) hydro-power project in Mozambique. Three years later this led to an agreement between South Africa and Portugal whereby  ESCOM would draw some electrical power from this source.

Dr Straszacker’s belief that the planning of South Africa’s power resources should benefit the country as a whole, made significant progress in 1962 with the announcement that Camden Power Station was to be built near Ermelo. Camden was to be followed by Hendrina, Arnot and Kriel, and thereby an important principle was established. Henceforth all  ESCOM’s new coal-fired power stations were to be erected on the extensive coalfields of the eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), where reasonable quantities of cooling water were also available.


In addition to his role as Chairman of ESCOM, Dr Straszacker served on the Atomic Energy Board under the Chairmanship of his former senior lecturer at Stellenbosch, Dr A J A Roux. This gave him the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with the possibilities of nuclear power for South Africa. Under his guidance the Commission therefore took the important decision to establish a Nuclear Division to prepare for the erection of South Africa’s first nuclear power station (now called Koeberg) near Cape Town in the Eighties.


The concept that power generation throughout the country should come under one completely integrated central authority led to the establishment of the Central Generating Undertaking on 1st January 1972. This represented a further step towards achieving the aim to optimise all power resources to the benefit of the country as a whole.


Dr Straszacker stressed the necessity of conserving our inland water resources. To this end he advocated the erection of a 200 MW unit with a dry cooling tower at Grootvlei Power Station, whereby ESCOM entered a new field and pioneered the largest dry cooling tower in the Western World.


From 1962  ESCOM had to more than double its activities in order to keep abreast of the increasing demand for electricity. This enormous increase in its activities, in turn, placed a heavy burden upon the organisation. Additional staff was necessary and modern management techniques had to be introduced. Costs became of paramount importance in all sectors. The advent of the modern computer as an essential instrument for the collection and processing of data necessitated a close scrutiny and general overhaul of Escom’s organisational structure. Here again, Dr Straszacker campaigned from the start for greater uniformity and a more systematic approach in the performance of Escom’s various functions.


ESCOM’s expansion programme made great demands upon the local long-term capital market. Large amounts had to be borrowed at extremely high rates on the foreign capital market. This militated strongly against  ESCOM’s aim of keeping costs and therefore the price of electricity at the lowest possible level.  ESCOM decided to follow the example of overseas electricity undertakings and obtain at least part of its capital from revenue. In 1971 the Electricity Act was amended in order to enable  ESCOM to establish a Capital Development fund. This Fund started functioning on 1st January, 1972 and reduced  ESCOM’s dependence upon local and foreign capital considerably.

The integration of  ESCOM’s activities revealed a further need: the steep increase in activities was accompanied by an equally sharp increase in staff. The result was that Escom’s Head Office Building became inadequate and staff had to be accommodated in various other buildings. This in turn hampered communication. The Commission therefore decided to purchase a piece of land on the northern boundary of Sandton for a spacious new head office complex. The complex became known as Megawatt Park and has been ESCOM's Head office since 1977.


South Africa has been a member of the international organisation, the World Energy Conference, since its inception in 1924. However, it was not until 1963 that the local National Committee of this organisation in South Africa under Dr Straszacker's chairmanship that  ESCOM began to participate more actively in the affairs of the Conference. Regular meetings were convened to ensure that South Africa, as the largest power consumer on the continent of Africa, received due recognition. Papers from the Republic were read at all important Conferences.


Dr Straszacker retired as Chairman of the Commission in 1980. Mr. Jan H Smith was appointed to succeed him. Tragically, Dr Straszacker died on 13 October 1999 as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident two days before.


The sources of this material are A Symphony of Power – The  ESCOM Story, and Eskom: Golden Jubilee 1923 - 1973.