ANC govt must stop perverting words “just energy transition” – Irvin Jim

NUMSA SG says ruling party and president are selling out the working class

NUMSA calls on the ANC govt to stop perverting the words “just energy transition”

14 November 2022

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns the ANC led government and President Cyril Ramaphosa in particular for selling out the working class with the Just Energy Investment Plan. Ramaphosa unveiled the plan to delegates at COP27 in Egypt last week. The plan unveiled by the President follows a pledge at COP26 in Glasgow last year by Germany, France, UK, US and the EU (or the Just Energy Transition Partnership, or JETP) of $8.5 billion or R1.5 trillion rand to assist South Africa's efforts to decarbonise the economy - to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.

According to media reports at least 81% of it is in the form of loans. And a very small percentage has actually been set aside to cushion the working class against the devastating socio-economic impact of the transition from coal to renewable energy.

NUMSA accepts that we must transition away from coal to renewable energy because of the negative effects of climate change. But we are adamant that such a move must be at a pace and at a cost that the country can afford. NUMSA supports renewable energy but it must form part of an energy mix which includes coal and nuclear so that we ensure that we have guaranteed baseload energy supply which will help us to drive our economic growth and development. We have been demanding a Just Transition as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) but what this government is rolling out, does not reflect this at all. Below we have listed six reasons why this fails the test for a Just Transition:

1.     The investment plan is a debt trap because the bulk of the funding is in the form of loans. We are signing up for unnecessary debt which will burden generations of the working class, and doom them to a perpetual cycle of poverty and inequality because we will not be able to pay it back. International banks and finance capital will benefit at our expense. The working class will be worse off as a result. We cannot solve the climate change crisis, by deepening the crisis of inequality and poverty for the working class masses.

2.     The South African government is racing to implement this program, and we are doing so even ahead of Western Europe and America, who are actually largely responsible for the climate change crisis we are faced with today. Europe has developed itself through industrialization which was fuelled by coal. What we are learning is that industrialization cannot be powered by renewable energy, it needs baseload energy in the form of coal or nuclear. South Africa is a developing country with an abundance of coal and we need to industrialize in order to create industries and a strong manufacturing base, so that we can effectively grow the economy and tackle unemployment and poverty. We cannot rush ahead of industrialized nations and implement a radical transition, which has the potential to disrupt our socio-economic development. When we implement this plan, it must be to the benefit of the masses. The ILO is clear that the green transition must also “contribute to decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication”.

3.     The decommissioning of coal fired power plants which is part of this plan, has already begun in Mpumalanga and it is a clear violation of the principles of a Just Transition, because there was little or no consultation from the community. The principles of Just Transition are clear that the working class and affected communities must drive the consultation process. We have not seen that here. Government has implemented a top-down approach where they are driving the process and they have barely consulted affected communities, or workers. The little consultation which has taken place can be described as a box-ticking exercise, because they started implementing and shutting down power stations and then, only later, did they begin to consult.

4.     The CSIR predicted at least 100 thousand jobs would be lost along the value chain as a result of this process. Coal power stations are labour intensive but renewable energy plants are not. What this means is that it is unlikely that hundreds of thousands of people will be absorbed by renewable energy companies in Mpumalanga. This province will be hardest hit because 12 out of 15 Eskom coal fired power stations are located there. In an article written by Muhammed Lokhat who wrote an op- ed titled, “Renewable energy jobs will not offset the loss of coal jobs”, and who attended the Windaba conference, noted that,

It comes as no surprise that Mercia Grimbeek, Chair of the SAWEA Board, finally said the “quiet part” out loud during the session – that the renewable energy sector will never be able to create a surplus of new jobs to mitigate job loss from the closure of coal mines and Eskom power plants.

NUMSA represents workers in solar plants in the Northern Cape and we have first-hand knowledge of this situation. These plants have a very small staff compliment. There might be jobs at construction phase, but in the long term, the plant will not absorb all those workers and it means thousands of them will be displaced. Which means they will suffer in the sea of unemployment.

5.     The Just Energy Transition Plan says nothing about ownership of this new renewable energy technology by communities or through workers co-operatives. What this means is that we will go into debt for expensive technology which will be owned by privately owned renewable energy companies. As we speak, Eskom is planning to unlock land from power stations which will be released for the benefit of the very same renewable energy companies. This is absurd! Our government is handing over assets which belong to the state and to the people of this country to individuals who will milk the local population for a very costly intermittent form of electricity, which does not guarantee energy supply when you need it. Germany, which has been driving the renewable energy agenda, is re-opening at least twenty moth-balled coal power stations in order to augment its energy supply. But South Africa, which already has frequent loadshedding and electricity blackouts, is shutting down coal power stations.

6.     What is also glaringly obvious is that Eskom, a state owned entity, has no role to play in this process because governments plan is silent on the future of Eskom. Eskom’s role seemingly is simply to enable the private sector to access the grid, but it will not have any direct role to play in providing renewable energy to the population. They are killing Eskom and we will pay dearly for this foolish decision. The majority of people cannot afford electricity as it is. When you enable the private sector to take over the generation of electricity as this government is doing, you are ensuring that the working class and the poor will struggle even more to access affordable electricity. The private sector has no interest in ensuring that the majority of people can access electricity. They care only about rampant profiteering and this includes the capitalist owners of renewable energy technology.

This transition is not just, by virtue of the fact that it will burden future generations with debt and deepen poverty. Furthermore, it will make electricity more expensive and thus less accessible to the poor and the working class, whilst choking our economic development. By its very definition, a Just Transition should not worsen conditions for the next generation and this deal will do precisely that. This is why NUMSA is calling on government to stop using the word ‘Just Energy Transition’ because they are perverting its meaning and misleading the public.

Aluta continua!

The struggle continues!

Issued by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary, 14 November 2022