Dr Mark van der Riet started working in Eskom in 1988 – 30 years ago – when Eskom initiated its coal combustion research in its then relatively new Rosherville Research and Development Centre. Many members of the FFF community have been privileged to work closely with him throughout all the early years in the Eskom coal combustion research programmes. This was such a stimulating time – with the new drop tube test and other advanced facilities, investigating all operations and testing the coals from all the power stations at that time. Subsequently Mark was the lead investigator for underground gasification which led to the first successful pilot scale operation in South Africa, and later he led the test for retrofitting of at least one South African Power Station with the first new Circulating Fluidised Bed Technology on this continent. His expertise was recognised worldwide and as such, he was invited to assist in coal-fired investigations in other countries, both in the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere.
From 2004 to 2018, Mark was appointed part-time Industry-linked Honorary Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in the Clean Coal Technology Research Group and there more than 50 doctorate and students passed through his hands.
More recently, Mark was transferred to Eskom’s Primary Energy division to oversee the acquisition of coal for the company’s 14 power stations. Three years ago, as Eskom’s top coal scientist, Mark van der Riet – and three colleagues – were suspended after rejecting sub-standard coal supplied by the Gupta-owned Brakfontein mine. After fighting the suspension for 32 months, Van der Riet was re-instated earlier this year, doubtless helped by the severing of Zuptoid tentacles around Megawatt Park.
But for him the damage was terminal. After a well-attended funeral, Mark was laid to rest. He had gone into a diabetic coma the week before and his stress-weakened heart gave in. A deeply religious man with a strong moral fibre, Van der Riet paid the ultimate price for standing up for truth and justice. He was just 56 years old.
As stated in a recent media publication, the death certificate reads differently but there’s a strong case to claim he was murdered. Mark’s “crime” was to stand up against the now exposed plunderers. That took great courage. And demands recognition.
In his own quiet humble way, Mark was a giant amongst us all – unique in his professionalism, dedication and brilliance – and in his guidance of major research programmes for Eskom, academia and the country. His loss is unparalleled, both as a friend and outstanding coal scientist, engineer and researcher. But his teaching and ideas live on and those who have benefitted from his friendship and support will be the manifestation of his memory.