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South Africa’s big green energy lie

By Gugulethu Hughes

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

In its quest to further colonize Africa, the West is pushing narratives that make a “moral” case for the greening of Africa through solar and wind energies. While the literature on green energy is attractive and the investments extremely handsome, the true intention of the sponsors of this energy coup is not to prosper Africa but rather to further drive the continent into poverty. To accelerate this, the West is investing in both governmental and non-governmental organizations and producing individuals who get incentivized well for creating green energy friendly policies and deals.

The focus on Africa is very suspect considering that the continent is not the biggest emitter of carbon emissions. Energy is first and foremost a national security factor, and to have its provision put in the hands of imperialists is a travesty of justice.

Europe’s industrial revolution “transformed economies that had been based on agriculture and handicrafts into economies based on large-scale industry, mechanized manufacturing, and the factory system. New machines, new power sources, and new ways of organizing work made existing industries more productive and efficient.” This transformation of European economies was highly dependent on the energy factor. The benefits gained during the period have put European economies in a better position to provide better life chances for Europeans.

Europe also began to create global trade routes for its products, burning even more fuels and producing more emissions. The very colonization of Africa is interlinked with the industrialization of Europe. According to the World Economic Forum, “Africa’s commercial transition was inextricably connected to the rising demand for industrial inputs from the industrializing core in the North Atlantic. Revolutions in transportation (railways, steamships), a move towards liberal trade policies in Europe, and increasing rates of GDP growth enhanced demand for (new) manufactures, raw materials and tropical cash crops. African producers responded to this demand by increasing exports of vegetable oils (palm oil, groundnuts), gum, ivory, gold, hides and skins. Palm oil, a key export, was highly valued as a lubricant for machinery and an ingredient in food and soap. During and after the scramble, the range of commodity exports broadened to include raw materials like rubber, cotton, and copper, as well as cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, tea and tobacco. The lion’s share of these commodities went directly to manufacturing firms and consumers in Europe. Meanwhile, technological innovations also reduced the costs of colonial occupation. These included the Maxim gun, the steamship, the railway and quinine, the latter lowering the health risks to Europeans in the disease-ridden interior of the ‘dark continent’.”

What this proves is that resource and energy intensive measures were undertaken by Europe to develop its economies through mass industrialization. Thus, the continent finds itself in a better economy than Africa, despite it being richer in raw materials and minerals.

The truth of the matter is that Western hegemony is now under threat from the ever-increasing possibility of a multipolar world. Europe no longer enjoys full control of the media which it previously used to advance falsehoods with almost zero risk of facing rebuttals. People now have access to alternative means of information, and Europe increasingly finds itself naked and its deeds and conduct, historical and present, more prone to critique. Economic blocs that exclude the West continue to emerge with member countries positioning themselves well for their own industrialization and development.

An industrializing Africa would lead Europe into an existential crisis, hence the Western obsession with Africa in this energy transition debate. So-called political independence in Africa has not translated to economic independence from Europe, and this is exactly how the West intended it to be. Now that the tide is slowly turning, Europe has had to become more creative and come up with such things like “just energy transition, climate justice, climate crisis, and climate change.”

To this end, Europe is forcing Africa to abandon usage of coal for energy production and is against Africa building nuclear power stations. Both coal and nuclear provide baseload energy required for the advancement of any economy in the world. Africa, endowed with deposits of resources like coal, is being advised to base its economic development models on intermittent wind and solar energy. All the while, Europe is importing coal from Africa to power its own energy power plants and maintain its position as an industrialized continent. Western attitude towards Africa remains colonial and condescending.

In South Africa, the biggest Western-funded experiment on transition from coal to wind and solar is being carried out, made possible by the anti-black administration of Cyril Ramaphosa. In September 2020, Cyril Ramaphosa formed the Presidential Climate Commission which he himself chairs. The commission is tasked with “ensuring the delivery of a just transition in South Africa and emanates from the Presidential Summit held in October 2018, when social partners agreed that a statutory entity should be formed to coordinate and oversee the just transition towards a low-carbon, inclusive, climate-resilient economy, and society.

Some of the commissioners appointed by Ramaphosa include the anti-black Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy, Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, and Louise Naude who is of the World Wildlife Fund, as climate portfolio senior manager. Cyril Ramaphosa has been given a mandate by the West to ensure that state-owned energy producer and distributor Eskom gets privatized. Part of the privatization mandate is to ensure that Eskom, which owns coal power plants, begins to transition from coal to wind and solar. Coal power plants are going to be repurposed, and one Komati Power Station is already being repurposed into a renewable energy training facility. This repurposing is being made possible from an eight billion rands loan from the World Bank, an 870 million rands concessional loan from the Canadian World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility, and 183 million rands grant from the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program.

In 2021, South Africa agreed to a climate finance deal which is now being marketed as a prototype for helping other coal-dependent developing countries transition to cleaner energy sources. 

The Daily Investor, citing Climate Home News, summarized the funding nature of the South Africa’s Climate Deal as follows, “Less than 3% of the US$8.5 billion will come in the form of grants, 54% will come in the form of concessional loans,43% will be commercial loans and investment guarantees. Germany and France are providing US$1.2 billion and US$1 billion in concessional loans respectively, US$2.6 billion will come from Climate Investment Funds which offer concessional finance from six multilateral development banks including the World Bank. The USA and the European Investment Bank are providing commercial loans of US$1 billion each, the UK is providing US$1.7 billion in commercial loans and debt guarantees, and US$230 million in the form of grants. Less than 1% of the total is earmarked for social investment to cushion communities dependent on coal power plants that will be shut down.”

The Institute Of Economic Justice did not hold back in its criticism of the South African Climate Finance Deal. Some of the key findings were that the financing is tied to the expansion of private sector energy generation with Independent Power Producers becoming a core feature which will likely raise the cost of energy. The lock-in and demand agreement which guarantees that Eskom will purchase power from IPPs who will get to set up pricing will also increase energy costs.

All the profits garnered through private sector provisioning and financial speculation will accrue to the private sector while the government carries the risk. There are no provisions for the localization of the renewable energy value chain. This means citizens are going to be at the mercy of Western companies that dominate the renewable energy sector. Already, Eskom is now exempted from applying black economic empowerment regulations in some of its procurement activities.

This past week, the Ministry of Finance exempted Eskom from reporting on any irregular and fruitless expenditure as required by the Public Finance Management Act for the next three years. The timing seeks nothing but to protect former CEO Andre De Ruyter’s deals with the West. The South Africa climate finance deal also comes with zero social justice provisions for the communities of the Mpumalanga highlands that are home to South Africa’s coal industry.

One of the key people in securing these abominable deals and agreements is former Eskom General Manager for Just Energy Transition Mandy Rambharos. Late last year, he resigned to join USA-based environmental organization Environmental Defense Fund where she now serves as the VP for global climate cooperation. Mandy has been a member of Ramaphosa’s presidential climate commission. She was also lead negotiator for South Africa in the UN-brokered South Africa Climate Finance Deal while authoring Eskom’s strategy to transition from coal to renewables.

The Environmental Defense Fund gets its funding from a network of private donors, family foundations, utility and fossil fuel companies and has been accused of greenwashing the activities of oil companies. Its ties to the Walmart-owning Walton family are well documented.

The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet is one of the biggest supporters of the South Africa Just Energy Transition Plan. This organization is made up of champions of imperialism like African Climate Foundation, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, and more. These organizations even pledged to support South Africa’s implementation capacity.

They, and many other imperialist orgs, are some of the top funders and partners of environmental non-governmental organizations operating in South African like SAFCEI and Earth Life in Johannesburg. In 2017, the latter got South Africa to declare the Nuclear Build and Procurement Program that President Jacob G. Zuma entered with Russian-owned nuclear company Rosatom as unlawful. Some of the ludicrous arguments advanced by these organizations included that the nuclear deal would tie South Africa into debt, the deal would cultivate government corruption, citizens were excluded in having a say in decisions leading to the deal, and that nuclear power is neither clean nor affordable.

The same organizations are not advancing similar arguments against Cyril Ramaphosa for signing climate finance deals that far exceed the cost of the nuclear deal without consulting citizens. Many more environmental organizations are being started and funded by the West to ensure that the Western concept of energy transition becomes a success. Members of Greenpeace recently stormed the Africa Energy Indaba in Cape Town and disrupted the Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe while he made a speech. These intellectual vegetables carried placards that read “coal = corruption” amongst many other absurdities.

Another problematic NGO is Groundwork which is involved in anti-coal advocacy and “energy justice.” The organization is currently taking Eskom to the Supreme Court of Appeal to block them from building a gas power plant in Richards Bay. Groundwork is being supported by another nefarious organization called The Green Connection.

In executing his mandate of meting out energy injustice to South Africans, Cyril Ramaphosa moved state security from the cabinet to the presidency where his financiers call the shots. He recently moved Eskom from the Department of Public Enterprises, to evade parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, to the newly created Ministry of Electricity in the Presidency.

The Minister of Electricity is a big advocate of private capital funding and running government institutions. Ramaphosa also declared power blackouts as a state of disaster which will also grant his associates more power to make strategic decisions without the need to go through parliament. When he assumed the role of President, he made Jeff Radebe, the man who married in the same family as him, the minister of energy. His port of call was to issue 27 licenses to Independent Power Producers of mostly Western origin with the only “local” one being African Rainbow Energy. ARE is owned by the brother-in-law of Patrice Motsepe and funded by ABSA. African Rainbow Energy is part of Ikamva Consortium which is benefitting immensely from South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Program. The consortium consists of companies like Globeleq, Mainstream Renewable Power, H1 Holdings, and African Rainbow Energy. 

The world deserves to know that power blackouts in South Africa have nothing to do with technical inability to manage the power utility. The people who are tasked with running Eskom at the government, board, and executive level are all prostitutes of white monopoly capital. They have a sole mandate to phase out coal usage and outsource the entire grid to Independent Power Producers who bring nothing but expensive wind and solar energies that won’t propel the country into prosperity. The supply chain and total cost of ownership of wind and solar energy is one of the most toxic in the world and does a good job of degrading the environment.

Under Cyril Ramaphosa, conflicts of interest and double standards are the new normal. This explains why Chairman of the Eskom Board Paul Mpho Makwana also serves as the Nedbank Chairman. Nedbank is the top bank in South Africa when it comes to funding renewable energy programs. Therefore, Makwana’s interest is realizing value for Nedbank shareholders.

As Noam Chomsky put it: “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

The need for reliable power has left South Africans powerless and receptive to the nonsense of renewable energies as the solution to power blackouts. South Africans have a duty to prevent this wave of injustice, imperialism, and colonialism from advancing any further. The people must reclaim their power by revolting against the government of Cyril Ramaphosa and his Western backers.

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Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

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