In the face of the climate crisis and the cheaper price of renewable energy, how do we explain South Africa’s continued addiction to it? Glen Tyler, South African Team Leader for the global environmental movement 350.org, argues that powerful vested interests within the mining sector and in government continue to push coal. Vested interests within the mining sector come from both established mining companies, such as BHP Billiton and Anglo American, and from emerging mining companies which are taking advantage of South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) legislation to establish themselves in coal mining. Official government policy in South Africa favours coal mining. The country’s plan for energy generation up until 2030 was updated just last month and includes new coal-fired power stations and places an entirely artificial limit on renewable generation.
Ahmed Mokgopo, divestment campaigner at 350.org, states that the promotion of coal at the cost of renewables ‘is politically motivated … there is a lot of money still to be made from coal in Africa and I think that’s what is driving South Africa’s increased dependence on coal’.
Macoma Lekalakala, Director of Earthlife Africa, a leading environmental rights NGO in South Africa, agrees, it is the political elite in the country who are investing in coal … the people who are benefitting mostly, it’s the political elite’ she says.
Bafana Hlatshwayo of the Middleburg Environmental Justice Network (MEJN), a community group that campaigns against mining in the Highveld (the coal mining area of South Africa), is blunter, simply stating that ‘corruption’ is the sole reason why coal continues to be pursued in South Africa. There is certainly plenty of evidence to indicate that politically connected people are making a great deal of money from coal in South Africa. Whatever the reason for the South African government’s love affair with coal, one thing is certain - coal mining and the burning of coal for electricity, has had, and continues to have, devastatingly negative social and environmental consequences for many South Africans. It’s no exaggeration to say that it poisons the air, the water, the soil, and the bodies of those that live and work within South Africa’s coal mining areas.
This report was undertaken by Dr. Neil Overy with the support and cooperation of the Heinrich Boll Rabat- Morocco. It is published under the framework of the transformAfrica program: Towards ecological and social transformation in Africa.