By Bertha Letsoko, Campaigner at African Climate Reality Project
As a campaigner and activist working in socially vulnerable communities for a decade, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of South Africa’s Draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2023). But now that it’s here, I can’t help but feel incredibly disappointed. The IRP is supposed to be a comprehensive document that outlines the assumptions about electricity demand and supply, economic conditions, and costs of generating enough electricity to meet the needs of the country. It is meant to be a roadmap for South Africa’s energy future, published by the Minister of Mineral Resource and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, but it falls short in many ways.
The IRP lacks detail on how the rolling blackouts and loadshedding in South Africa will be addressed. This is a critical issue that affects everyone , especially those in vulnerable communities who are often disproportionately impacted by unreliable electricity supply. There is a lack of transparency that leaves the public in the dark about the potential financial impacts of the proposed energy pathways. And, the most concerning is the glaring absence of the steps that will be taken to ensure a just transition to a low carbon economy.
These communities may be left behind in the shift towards renewable energy. Without a clear plan for a just transition, we risk further widening the energy gap, and exacerbating existing inequalities. What is most frustrating about the IRP2023 is the lack of transparency and true public engagement in its development, and the disingenuous time allocated for public comments. The plan was quietly released on the 4th of January 2023 with a window for comment open until the 23rd of February, which is not enough time to critically engage with the document, especially due to the lack of detail for civil society to assess the type of recommendations and the outputs in the plan. Communities that are most affected by these changes need resources and support, like mobile data, to be able to access the document and give comments.
The report is not accessible both in language and availability, which further necessitates longer consultation time and a greater effort to meaningfully include communities.
This document should not be treated as another piece of policy that will be circulated amongst people who are privileged enough and well-resourced to respond in time. What is clear, though, in this document is that we are being conditioned to accept that rolling blackouts will continue, and the scheduled decommissioning of Eskom’s coal will be prolonged. This further perpetuates economic injustice, social inequality, and climate injustice. Continued blackouts also mean heightened crime and unemployment, issues that heavily impact vulnerable communities that are already facing precarious situations. It’s clear that the IRP is out of touch with the lived realities of vulnerable people, and does little to improve the quality of their lives or address the need for a just transition.
It is disheartening to see critical decisions being made without the communities’ best interests in mind. The lack of consideration for affordability, and the direct impact on those affected is a reflection of the disconnect between policy decisions and the real-world consequences faced by those most vulnerable in our society. The IRP 2023 presents false solutions that are distractions from a meaningful effort to implement a Just Energy Transition Plan.
As a society, we cannot afford to continue down the same path of opaque decision-making, and exclusionary planning processes. The energy future of South Africa impacts us all, particularly those who are most vulnerable. It is crucial that the voices of vulnerable communities are central to the development of the IRP, and that there is a clear commitment to addressing their unique needs and concerns. I urge the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, The Minister of Electricity, and the government of South Africa to re-evaluate the IRP, and prioritize its transparency and inclusivity.
As a country, we have the opportunity to pave a new path towards a sustainable and equitable energy future. Let us not squander that opportunity. It’s time for a plan that serves all who live in South Africa, regardless of their socio-economic status or background. The IRP must be a plan for all, guiding us toward a future that is not only sustainable but also just. It is time to engage in a meaningful and transparent dialogue that encompasses the diverse perspectives of our society, ensuring that no one is left behind in the quest for a cleaner, more reliable energy future.