DME’s Energy Summit puts our heritage at risk

In 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections. Part of that democratic heritage was that a new way of governing was brought into being. People were to be involved in decision-making, and government would facilitate this. Legislation which supports access to information, administrative justice and environmental justice was enacted and many sector specific policy processes were undertaken. One of these was the policy process on energy which culminated in the White Paper on Energy of 1998.

A day after South Africa celebrates Heritage Day next week, the Department of Mineral and Energy will sit – together with selected invitees – to review the 1998 White Paper on Energy. Topics on the agenda include uranium enrichment, electricity restructuring and encouraging competition in energy markets.

But the critical importance of exploiting our global advantage of abundant solar resources, or taking advantage of our wind or biogas potential (calculated to be able to supply 70% of our electricity by 2050) which would result in significant job creation, have been largely ignored. Such critically important energy security issues, together with a commitment to implementing energy efficiency so that we ensure affordable access to energy for all, are relegated to a handful of sessions out of 21.

The Minister of the DME has publicly stated that the purpose of the Energy Summit was to afford all stakeholders an opportunity to reflect on the energy policy development process, particularly the Energy White Paper. However, the experience over the last month has been that NGOs, such as Earthlife Africa Cape Town and Sustainable Energy Africa (with many years of experience in the energy sector), who have tried to engage with DME to change the programme to reflect meaningful engagement, have had little success. Their efforts have either been ignored or rejected.

Communities, represented by organizations like the South African Council of Churches (SACC) have not been invited. Significantly, neither have organizations directly affected by a policy review process such as the Namaqualand Action Group for Environmental Justice and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance been given notice of this “Energy Summit. Community networks and organizations do not have the resources to transport themselves to the summit.

Earlier this year – at the announcement of the annual Budget – the People’s Budget Campaign whose stakeholders include the South African Council of Churches (SACC), COSATU and SANGOCO urged government to “spend more, spend better on the right programmes.” Believing expenditure on the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor – as an example – to already be a non-viable and expensive project, the PBC proposed that government redirect spending on the PBMR – somewhere in the region of R6 billion – for the development and financing of renewables over the next five years.

Recommendations such as these are unlikely to get a fair hearing at next week’s conference. Yet, the impact of its decisions on energy solutions for the future – especially on the poor who are forced to live under unhealthy clouds of coal fired power stations and oil refineries – will impact heavily on the price they pay for energy services.

Government – the custodian of the process of democratic participation and consultation – will effectively have failed to invite the poorest and those who represent them to participate in the initiation of a review of one of the most significant pieces of legislation to affect the quality of the livelihood of present and future generations.

In order for an energy summit to claim that it is both national and of the people, government would need to provide sufficient notice and invite civil society organizations and communities active in the energy sector to genuinely consultative process. Such a process should be open and transparent, with a programme that reflects the full range of energy topics that affect South Africans today. The undersigned organizations call on government to return to the basic tenets of democracy. We demand the right to participate in decisions that affect policy changes to energy use. We demand a say for future generations that may not have a voice because of the choices government and big business make today.

Signed by:
Earthlife Africa Cape Town
SA Catholic Bishops Conference Justice & Peace Environmental Desk
Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection
Keith Vermeulen – member of the People’s Budget Campaign
South African Energy Caucus
Sustainable Energy Africa
Namaqualand Action Group for Environmental Justice
Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Citizens United for Renewable Energy & Sustainability (CURES)
Koesterfontein Residents Action Group
Earthlife Africa eThekwini
Pelindaba Working Group
South African Faith Communities Environmental Institute
Justice & Peace Department: Archdiocese of Johannesburg
SA Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

Keith Vermeulen 021 423 4261/082 523 0701
Maya Aberman 021 447 4912/076 754 6327