Our Burning Planet


Manifestos of SA’s big three parties fail to realistically address climate crisis, environmental issues 

Manifestos of SA’s big three parties fail to realistically address climate crisis, environmental issues 
From left: DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Gallo Images / Laird Forbes) | ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

We perused the ANC, DA and EFF manifestos and consulted an expert to assess their proposals on the climate crisis and environmental issues. Unlike the ANC and DA, the Red Berets ‘gave it a decent go’, but its proposals are somewhat detached from reality.

Election season is upon us and political parties are releasing their manifestos in a bid to win voters. Daily Maverick perused the manifestos of the three biggest parties, the ANC, DA and EFF, to assess their plans to address the climate crisis and environmental issues.

Proposals include the privatisation of water infrastructure, the separation of water service authorities from providers, and a “by the way” nod to pressing climate issues.

As climate crisis impacts increase, parts of South Africa have experienced heatwaves — with record temperatures in some areas — flooding and wildfires. Water access has been a key issue, with several regions not having water for days.

Dr Bill Harding, an aquatic ecologist and environmental law specialist, said the manifestos were disappointing.

He said the EFF’s manifesto on water and climate was strong, but its timelines and implementation were unrealistic.

“It is rather disappointing that the ANC and DA typically came up with absolutely nothing. There’s nothing in there. The ANC avoids everything and the DA is just worried about water shedding.

“Surprisingly, the EFF provides a 200-page document that is filled with things about water, relating to dams, toilets, taps, upskilling the department, employing thousands of artisans to fix water leaks, etc… Of all the parties, they are the only ones that have given it a decent go.”

Harding is not in any way politically affiliated, but as a limnologist, is studying the different manifestos to assess what the parties understand about the water crisis. Through a separate piece, the limnologist is further investigating the parties’ deeper understanding of the water crisis that reaches beyond dry taps and lack of sanitation; whether parties fully grasp the interlinked environmental and water crises, and what they are doing to address the matter in order to uplift the citizens whose votes they are seeking.

African National Congress 

The governing party’s ambitions on climate and environmental concerns as set out in its manifesto are lacklustre. The manifesto merely points to existing initiatives and how to improve them.

The party said it would improve water access and capacity in municipalities facing water and water infrastructure challenges and complete water infrastructure projects.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC manifesto promises ‘prescribed assets’, NHI in five years, 3.5m new state job opportunities

The manifesto said the party would, “Separate water services authorities from water service providers as part of efficiency improvements. Ensure proper planning and investment to address immediate and future sanitation needs. Complete in the coming five years the major dams and water schemes to ensure sustainable access to water for a growing population.”

“It wouldn’t change a thing,” said Harding on separating water services authorities from water service providers.

“The water system is a very convoluted hierarchical system; it’s just so complicated and it doesn’t need to be. To now start splitting more things when the present system is not working — there are deeper problems than the supply side. I think water and sanitation should be split.

“They do not want to admit this problem… They’ve avoided the need to roll up their sleeves and do something. We’re past that point now.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Unfolding water crisis in Johannesburg deepens as officials scramble for answers

The ANC also committed to establishing partnerships with other countries to combat the climate crisis, and to promote climate-smart agriculture and eco-friendly production processes, such as becoming a world player in green hydrogen, battery and electric vehicle production.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Funding a greener future – Ramaphosa outlines South Africa’s R1.5 trillion three-step energy transition plan

Democratic Alliance 

The official opposition’s solution to SA’s water scarcity and infrastructure problems is to privatise water infrastructure projects “through a performance-based private-public partnership model”.

Harding said, “There’s the DA that says the next crisis for South Africa is water: completely missing the fact that it’s been here for 50 years already. It’s not new, it just hasn’t been looked into. But now it’s becoming more obvious with a rise in places with water outages.”

In addition, the DA plans to adopt water quality testing, increase the quality of treated and reused wastewater, establish a dedicated grant for water infrastructure maintenance, and fast-track dam and water treatment works infrastructure development.

Harding said water privatisation, which has happened in the United Kingdom, would not be appropriate in South Africa because of the inequality gap.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DA manifesto — party would like to swap BEE for UN sustainable goals

“It wouldn’t be that easy here,” he said. “It would probably only be feasible in the big cities. Which private company is going to put in small works in the (Eastern Cape), for example; places where it’s really needed?

“They’re going to make a lot of money near bigger cities or near big towns. It’s going to benefit the people that already have [water], and the poor people are going to get the short straw. It’s sort of a neoliberal concept of privatising water.”

As far as climate is concerned, the DA manifesto mentions the word once, when the party refers to its commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emission through diversifying the energy mix.

Economic Freedom Fighters 

The Red Berets lead the pack when it comes to promises about addressing climate and environmental issues (perhaps they should consider calling themselves the Green Berets).

“South Africa’s environmental management does not adequately address the protection of the climate because the country is completely dependent on polluting energy resources,” the EFF manifesto reads.

It promises to establish climate disaster response measures through research and investing in resilience infrastructure, capacity building and skills to “future-proof communities”.

“The EFF government will actively pursue policies to help South Africa adapt to climate change impacts on water resources, implementing strategies to manage water scarcity during periods of drought,” it says.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EFF manifesto’s main points — nationalise stuff, scrap provinces and legalise dope

Harding said although the party’s aims were good, there were factors that it had not considered.

“[Implementation] is not going to be possible because they haven’t realised how much time is involved just to get a mindset change, and then get the money to do this — which is going to be more expensive than Eskom,” he said of addressing water infrastructure challenges.

The EFF also said it would assess all SA’s 963 water treatment works in a year — which is impossible if they intend to do the job well, Harding said.

The party dedicated a subsection to “Environment and Climate”. It promised:

  • A community-inclusive ecosystem for the protection and preservation of endangered species;
  • Environmental authorisation permits that would be solely handled by the Department of Environmental Affairs;
  • Enforcing the rehabilitation of mines;
  • The creation of one million climate jobs; and
  • A 60% reduction in river pollution by 2029.

Read more in Daily Maverick:  EFF election manifesto – Fact-checking four big claims on land, wealth, crime and sanitation in South Africa

Yet the party still speaks of establishing a state-owned coal mining company to manage Eskom’s coal mines. Such a company would also export coal to African countries to “support their electrification and industrialization [sic]”.

The party speaks about carbon-capture technology while referring to leveraging 200 years of coal reserves. This is in addition to partnering with China to repair and restore coal power stations. Of course, it doesn’t forget to make mention of “the development of clean coal”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: What happened to the Just Energy Transition grant funding?

Climate and environmental issues have come to the fore over the past few years, but parties in South Africa seem to be slow to catch up to the key elements of the climate crisis debate.

It’s important that parties eyeing the presidential office have a strong and well-planned policy on such matters, especially when investment into greening is knocking at the country’s door. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    Realistically…environment is probably far from the list of what is seen as the immediate need…the people.

    But the wise will see the connection… the environment is going to end people if not attended to, the fixing the environment promises great opportunities for innovation and jobs

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