DIPLOMATIC GREEN LIGHT
French government officials undeterred by SA’s Just Energy Transition implementation delays
The French government is not deterred by the slow pace of the implementation of the Just Energy Transition in South Africa. France has committed to investing billions of rands towards the project.
The internal political pushback against South Africa’s move towards clean energy sources is the main reason there has been scant progress in its implementation.
Senior French government officials and diplomats have said that they are aware of the challenges that could slow down the process. There is also an understanding that SA signed the agreement only two years ago at the COP26 forum, and many other decisions about the transition need to be made.
A French diplomat told Daily Maverick they are willing to provide any help the country needs to get the ball rolling and emphasised that countries like the Philippines have barely commenced with their just transition plans.
In November 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP) at a special virtual meeting of the Presidential Climate Commission.
Under the partnership, the European Union, Germany, France, the UK and the US pledged $8.5-billion over three to five years to support South Africa’s efforts to reduce its dependence on coal and implement a Just Energy Transition policy.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA formally hands over R1.5-trillion clean energy investment plan to International Partners Group in Egypt
Daily Maverick understands that there still needs to be a conversation between the partners about targets and timelines for the roll-out of the transition. There is also a belief that the focus might have shifted in SA because of the upcoming 2024 elections, with the country gearing up to head to the polls.
The JET-IT project is believed to be one of the ways to remedy South Africa’s energy crisis and ensure it has a sufficient power supply.
The bone of contention
However, unions have concerns about job losses, especially in Mpumalanga where many communities’ source of income comes from working at coal mines.
There has been robust debate between the government, labour, political parties and unions about the move.
While Ramaphosa has been at the forefront of pioneering the gradual move to green energy, not all his ministers are convinced that this is the right decision.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has labelled the Just Energy Transition a “foreign concept” created by developed nations that does not apply to South Africa.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Black Business Council in July, he sharply criticised the pace at which South Africa is transitioning to renewable energy. The minister urged South Africa to exercise energy sovereignty and not be a conduit for ideas from the developed world.
At its 2022 policy conference, the ANC was split over the matter, with the “coal fundamentalists” speaking against the transition while some, especially those supporting Ramaphosa, were in favour of it.
The DA, which has shown more support for the transition, has called for the immediate dismissal of Mantashe for what it says is a “continuous defiance of the President, and his failure to acknowledge his responsibility in energy planning and international cooperation”.
EFF leader Julius Malema has openly rejected the transition as he believes it will cripple South Africa’s coal mining sector.
French business to stay put in SA despite load shedding crisis
Rolling blackouts in SA are not a deterrent for French businesses, a substantial trade partner for the country. This comes as Paris sees an opportunity for exponential growth in SA.
It is understood that the general sentiment of French businesses on South Africa’s energy crisis is that it is temporary and many have said they are still content with operating in South Africa.
There are about 370 subsidiaries of French companies in South Africa, from more than 160 French groups, directly employing close to 40,000 people. Many major French companies benefit from a historic base in the country, including Alstom, Total, Air Liquide, Air France and L’Oréal.
Daily Maverick understands that French companies still believe that there are opportunities in the country, which has a strong market.
But many companies have been hit hard by SA’s failure to produce an uninterrupted power supply.
Investments in SA have also been affected, with the energy crisis deterring potential foreign investors. This reduced investment further hinders economic growth and job creation, exacerbating the challenging situation.
An estimated 600,000 jobs and R61-billion in revenue were lost through load shedding in 2022, with job and revenue losses likely to rise to 850,000 and R77-billion, respectively, at the current rate of unmet energy demand. DM
Masuabi’s trip to Paris was hosted by the French Embassy.