/ 29 May 2024

Vote for a just energy plan with enduring solutions

Eskom's Hendrina & Arnot Coal Powered Stations As Soot Pollution At 31 Year High
Pulling our leg: Last year, load-shedding went on for a record-breaking total of 335 days, making 2023 the worst year in South Africa’s blackout history. Yet, a matter of weeks before the elections Eskom has kept the lights on for more than a month, their best performance in two years. Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Getty Images

South Africa should return to the spirit of 1994 and start all over again, say 49% of participants in a poll by news broadcaster eNCA. And 53% felt that South Africa requires a new government. 

About 3 022 households took part in the survey.

What happened between 1994 and 2024 that left some wanting a redo and others a desperate leap for change?

People’s opinions of how things have been going since the first democratic vote will vary. There are arguments that things are worse, have stayed the same, or are better. Yet, by and large, it’s safe to say that the liberation of black people after enduring 48 years of oppression under apartheid stands out as the most monumental achievement. We owe an immense amount to the people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. 

Thirty years into our democracy, many people living in South Africa are still grappling with problems, some too hard to soften with the stories of our liberation. Dilapidated city infrastructure, a failing health system, under-resourced schools, pervasive corruption, poverty, rampant crime, inequality, unemployment and an energy crisis sum it up. 

Among these issues is the often overlooked problem of climate change, despite its grave implications. The ramifications of climate change can be called a “walala wasala [you snooze, you lose]” situation — but worse. The full effects of climate change are unfolding around us as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity. Snoozing in the face of this imminent danger is irresponsible and poses a catastrophic existential risk. 

Civil society organisations in the climate movement have for years urged the government to recognise that the climate crisis is deeply intertwined with our socio-economic problems. The connection between energy and climate is deep; any action taken to address or exacerbate one problem will affect the other.

Leaders fail to realise these connections and don’t grasp how vulnerable the most affected are. 

Several election polls show that load-shedding is the top concern for voters. An Election Agenda Survey by the Nguvu Collective reflects that 85.5% of people plan to vote because they are mad about spending time in the dark. 

Last year, load-shedding went on for a record-breaking total of 335 days, making 2023 the worst year in South Africa’s blackout history. Yet, a matter of weeks before the elections Eskom has kept the lights on for more than a month, their best performance in two years. Many would be understandably sceptical.

It is too early to conclude that the government has resolved our energy problems. Load-shedding has worsened since 2007. Where was the political will to fix things this quickly 17 years ago?

To stay ahead of politicians and their inevitable rhetoric during times like this, the trick is for voters to also pay attention to what the politicians are not saying. Scrutinise their promises against their manifestos and score them on what they prioritise and do not. For those with a track record, what matters is what they do, not what they say. Then you’ll know what decision to make. 

For instance, in November 2023, the government said: “Cabinet has approved the Just Energy Transition (JET) Implementation Plan worth USD 8.5 billion, which will guide South Africa’s transition to a low carbon economy through the scaling up of renewable energy sources … The Implementation Plan demonstrates South Africa’s commitment to a just transition in line with the country’s energy needs … It responds to South Africa’s commitments under the Paris Agreement and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” 

In January 2024, here’s what they did: the department of mineral resources and energy quietly published the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of 2023. They thought we wouldn’t notice it was late. The draft IRP serves as South Africa’s official electricity blueprint. Despite enduring the worst year of load-shedding, hopes were high for the government to present a robust power plan addressing load-shedding and paving the way for a sustainable energy future. It’s disappointing to see how unresponsive the energy plan is, indicating the persistence of load-shedding until at least 2027. It was met with a barrage of criticism. 

The government’s energy plan falls dismally short in assessing national energy demand and capacity, failing to adequately address energy shortages and secure reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable solutions.

A concerning trend is the renewed emphasis on fossil fuels such as gas and the life extension of outdated, expensive coal-fired power plants. Made-up things like “clean coal generation” are also mentioned in the draft energy plan. These missteps undercut the country’s just transition, and our energy and climate goals and give away the government’s true intentions.

For better or for worse, politics and the outcomes of this year’s democratic elections will shape our energy and climate future in a big way. The people’s vote can raise the urgency of the energy and climate crisis. If used wisely, our vote can drive solutions and effect change.

The mysterious light that appeared recently will eventually fade in the absence of real transformative energy policies. The same is true for the aspirations of people to live in a clean environment and have access to affordable and reliable electricity.  

Let’s vote for political parties that will revise the draft 2023 national electricity plan and prioritise renewable energy such as solar and wind. These offer viable, safe and sustainable alternatives to power the economy, end load-shedding, and lend themselves to opportunities for social ownership of renewable energy. 

Take the T-shirts — we all love a good T-shirt — but hold firm to the power of your vote. The upcoming decisions are too important. 

Boitumelo Masipa is a digital and communications specialist at 350Africa.org