The South African government has some of the best policies in the world, which ideally seek to deal with poverty, unemployment and inequality. But our bureaucratic system in the government and our public servants render well-drafted policies useless.
The energy sector in South Africa is essential, because it is in the centre of the economy, particularly the mining industry focused on steel and coal. These are drivers of our country’s economy, characterised as the Mineral Energy Complex. Our economic structure is invested in this Mineral Energy Complex, which negatively affects both our environment and our economy.
Our government is perpetually signing energy deals and spin to the public that they need to build more coal power stations due to an electricity shortage in the country. This coal-fired energy that is being built does not go to the society but to the energy-hungry mining industry, steel sector and petrochemicals plants.
The Department of Environment Affairs in 2004 drafted the National Climate Change Response Strategy White Paper focused on adaptation to Climate Change. This policy advances an eco-friendly economy but does not address the issues of climate change at hand.
It is troubling that the White Paper recommends a green economy founded on the minimisation of carbon emissions but simultaneously recognises the importance of coal-fuelled sectors as a hub of job creation and central to our economic growth. More important, the White Paper does not detail alternatives to coal which will either be renewable energy sources or fuels that do produce high carbon emissions.
In 2010 our government resolved to embark on the mixed energy system underpinned in their 2030 plan, the so-called Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). This plan came in consideration of degradation and violation of nature and proposes mitigation for climate change.
The IRP envisaged that by 2030 our country must have shifted from 85% use of coal-energy to 65% with use of renewable energy at 9%, 5% hydro-energy and 20% nuclear energy. However, the issue remains the approach towards the structural development of renewable energy. Our government approach is a capitalist market-based one in which government outsources renewable energy to Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and then Eskom buys that energy from IPPs.
Post the White Paper policy in 2004, our government proceeded to borrow R39-billion (in US dollars) from the World Bank to expand coal-fired energy through construction of the Medupi coal-fired plant.
Recently minister of Energy Jeff Radebe has signed an IPP deal that cost around R55-billion to private companies. This further entrenched international division of labour, whereby Global South countries remain consumers and Global North producers for the southern countries. Consequently, IPPs are another way of creating global monopoly capital.
Then in 2011 the contradictory logic within government revealed itself. A group of elite and neoliberalist policymakers led by President Cyril Ramaphosa drafted the National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030. The NDP promised us the 2030 dream of alleviating poverty and creating employment as the IRP promised a transition from coal-intensive energy to mixed-energy to mitigate climate change.
Our government has proven that it does not have a well co-ordinated planning and bureaucratic system, because NDP suggests that water, transport and energy infrastructure be improved in support of mining and mining-linked economic demand. Clearly the drafters of NDP did not consider the IRP that argued that South Africa must enter the struggle for an energy transition.
Even setting aside the plethora of corruption in government, our government still fails to reconcile its energy policies with economic growth. Due to lack of proper planning, monitoring and co-ordination of policies, each and every president and his Cabinet will be doomed to adopt new and contradictory policies to those of their predecessors.
At least the 1994 government had a ministerial office led by Jay Naidoo whose sole focus was the policy implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme. Why does our incumbent government not have policy watchdogs? It is clear in their incoherent policy drafting that no one is keeping tabs on the cohesiveness of the different policies and consistency of the policies with long-term development goals.
In the same breath, our government must start modernising its public service to make efficient policy implementation possible. And this will only come as a result of government having committed public servants and well co-ordinated policies.
Climate change is a reality; the IRP does not aggressively push the mitigation for climate justice because coal-energy will still be to be a dominant factor posts-2030. The NDP contradicts the IRP because of its wishes to enhance economic growth by extracting and burning coal.
Indeed, we have the best policies in the world. But these policies will be buried if South Africans continue not to be concerned about government implementation of these policies.
The communities and trade unions need to strongly organise to place pressure on government to give concessions on climate justice because, at the end of the day, consequences of climate change will mostly affect the poor. We are seeing these consequences now through phenomena such as droughts and flood. They will only worsen in our lifetime, threatening food security as well as human settlement and safety.
And in the process of reconciling energy and economic growth our government needs to modernise state mechanisms for proper policy planning, co-ordinating and accountability from municipal level to the national government.
South Africa needs a progressive energy policy to protect the poor from the climate change. The IRP is an important policy that needs to be amended to be biased towards renewable energy. However, it is imperative that our government develops strong accountability mechanisms. So if the IRP in 2030 does not reach it goals the public servants and state executives are held accountable.
People of South Africa must always mobilise to hold the state accountable because they are the largest shareholders of the state and they pay taxes for government to service them and serve their interests. DM
Ashley Nyiko Mabasa, YCLSA Wits Branch Secretary