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RENEWABLE ENERGY PROMISES BENEFITS ANEW FOR THE NORTHERN CAPE BUT THEN WHO IS BLOWING OUT THOSE FIRES?

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Gaze into your crystal balls and let the eternal optimists trust upon the guarantees of the Department of Energy (DoE) and its entity in the Independent Power Producer (IPP) office – that the Northern Cape’s sun will shed its beam on the provincial economy from renewable energy.

Lack of local content is one of the factors stemming from the criticisms that have been levelled against South Africa’s green energy boom. Some of the skepticisms that have also generated much heat include amongst others; foreign skills set drawn ashore by the industry’s endowed multinational companies against the use of local artisans, skills transfer and lack of parity in working conditions and compensation.

In extinguishing the cynicism and nagging local content dilemma, head of the IPP office Karen Breytenbach said; “Our estimate is that for the solar PV projects, around 2.8 million solar modules would be procured, 600 inverters and 385 transformers. In addition for the onshore wind projects, roughly 500 wind towers and turbines would be required. South African manufactures stand to benefit from this huge demand opportunity.”

The vexing question is whether local black manufacturers are ready to exploit the promise of a transformed renewable energy landscape and ignite a black industrialization ray of hope?

Renewable Energy Entrepreneurship Forum -South Africa (REEF-SA) in the Northern Cape claims to have unleashed engagements with the DoE for opportunities to be granted to locals in respect of the recently signed 27 Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Projects (REIPPP), worth a foreign investment of R56 billion, which placed the Northern Cape yet again in pole position as the leading province in being home to most.

With the dust having settled somehow on the impasse, delays and uncertainties that had fatigued this industry, the IPP office is now aware of the expectations for real Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE). Yes indeed, it shouldn’t be interpreted as the parachuting of black-suite clad Gauteng based black corporate players that have courted the multi-nationals ahead of the locals.

Future bids by prospective multi-national bidders are most likely set to be packaged with charm beyond the requisite IPP office requirements. Well that is the nature of capital; it is enthralled in high voltage magnetism.  Seek better explanations for that from state utility giant called Eskom.

Let us for now call the failed court bid by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and Transform RSA “an aberration of some kind” against the initial moment of glory for Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe. And laudably; we may as well hail the ultimate energy mix policy assurance with the signing off and contracts being entered into, thus boosting investor confidence.

It is all systems go for now, but, there appears to be little attention given to the battles that have been taken to the doorstep of the renewable energy giants.

13 March 2018. Up in arms in Upington and Pofadder’s blistering heat, were NUMSA members who embarked on protest action at the local Spanish solar plants in full cry for better working conditions and salaries for locals, arguing that they are deplorable and meagre when matched against those of foreign nationals. Again, according to an SABC news report on 7 March; also crying foul were members of the Economic Freedom Front who had targeted the Kathu Solar Park, claiming that workers are underpaid and working under bad conditions.

With NUMSA already having taken their labour dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the IPP office should take stock and tailor intervention mechanisms – or perhaps foster an inter-governmental approach to it – as the simmering tensions could be damaging.

It is also now as crystal clear as the open blue skies of the Northern Cape that the governing party is eager to get to grips with all aspects of the industry and not only have a Premier and MEC at hand for mere sod-turning of projects. Minister Radebe could do better than his predecessors in setting channels for continued briefings. His is a political office in any case. Amaqhawe House, the legislature, Department Economic Development and others might find the information remedial.

Should the on-and-off Provincial Renewable Energy Summit ultimately go ahead before midyear, much attention could be on what is meant by forging towards “becoming a net exporter of electricity” and capitalising on this province enhancing its Domestic Growth Product (GDP) contribution through renewables. Quite a bit for unpacking isn’t it?

Then there is also the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) claiming to be electrocuted by Eskom’s monopolistic renewable energy stranglehold. SALGA is calling for municipalities to be allowed to generate own revenue and so has the Western Cape government in its forever federalist charge also sought. Provincial head honcho of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Anele Gxoyiya might endorse SALGA’s sentiments but then are we not posturing on privatization and the transfer of literally so – the state’s only power? Should local government get it right private entities might as well claim their stake.

 


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Thabo Mothibi is a former broadcast journalist (TV and Radio) – with specialist reporting experience; SABC Political/Parliamentary and TRC Teams over a period of five years (1995 to 2000).

One key foreign assignment - is the 11-nation African Connection Rally – overland journey from Africa’s northern-most pole in the coastal Tunisian city of Bizerte to the southern-most pole in South Africa’s Cape Agulhas. From the journalistic years, Thabo then delved into Government media liaison and serving two former Ministers and three MECs. He became the Northern Cape Provincial Government’s first department based Communications Director at Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development - 2008-2010 – where he also served as Head of Ministry from 2003 – 2008.

As a former anti-apartheid activist, his political background and professional training aided him in spearheading the Northern Cape ANC’s 2004 National Elections media and publicity campaign and that of the 2006 Local Government Elections.

Whilst based in Waterkloof in Pretoria -2010 to end 2011, he consulted for Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence, then returned to the Northern Cape in 2012 to date, to consult independently and pursue other entrepreneurial interests in media and communications through KwaVuko Communications and Marketing.

Thabo Mothibi obtained his NQF7 through Wits University’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management (P&DM) in Johannesburg, a Unilever Mandela Rhodes Academy for Marketing and Communications Academy (UMRA). The goal of the NQF7 programme was to educate and train public and private sector professional communicators and marketers in government communications..