Civil Society Finally Makes Headway To Compel Government To Develop SA’s Energy Plan

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A week ago, on 28 April 2023, the President finally published, in the Government Gazette, his decision to bring Section 6 of the National Energy Act (NEA), into operation.

A couple of days before that The Green Connection and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) received correspondence from the State Attorney on behalf of the President and the Minister in the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), that the President had decided to bring Section 6 into operation with effect from 1 April 2024.

This follows more than two (2) years of unsuccessful correspondence with the President and Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, in which The Green Connection and SAFCEI urged the President to bring Section 6 into operation. The goal of that engagement was to progress and develop a proper Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) in compliance with Section 6, for the country. As a result of the unsuccessful engagement, after the President still hadn’t taken action, The Green Connection and SAFCEI launched legal proceedings in January 2023 to review the President’s failure or refusal to bring Section 6 of the NEA into operation.

The environmental justice organisations say, “While we have achieved, to some degree, what we had set out to do – that is, for the President to agree to bring into operation the relevant Section of the NEA that drives energy planning – the fact that it will only be effective from 1 April 2024, means that only half the battle is won. In the midst of a crippling energy crisis, the President’s decision to wait a year, leaves us with many questions and reservations, because it means that only then will the Minister of the DMRE be legally required to get the ball rolling to start developing an IEP.”

What makes section 6 of the National Energy Act so important, is that it requires the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to develop an Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), with public input, that considers all the variables and influences, such as climate change and South Africa’s development plans, and to review it annually. The IEP will serve as a guide for proposed energy projects, which should be based on need and desirability and, if brought into effect, section 6 would curb disparate decisions about South Africa’s energy future. According to the eco-justice organisations, there are a host of energy projects – from oil and gas to nuclear – that are being considered and undertaken without a comprehensive and long-term plan. The IEP is in the Energy Act because it balances competing economic, environmental, political and social interests and sets the correct context in which energy-related decisions are to be made. Most importantly, Section 6 guarantees an energy plan that is developed in consultation with the people.

The Green Connection’s Advocacy Officer Kholwani Simelane says, “As South Africa limps through the energy crisis, it is very confusing why the President would delay the process to start proper energy planning – and in essence, extend the people’s suffering – by another year. What is the point of all these ad hoc energy committees and task groups, if they cannot work together to get the country geared towards integrated energy planning? If this is not the purpose of these measures, then it is just another massive waste of public funds, which should be used to find real, tangible ways of dealing with the crises. It is very difficult to understand why there are now further delays because we are living in an electricity crisis right now. People are suffering now.”

“The President and Ministry have repeated the same excuses from when we first started writing to them in November 2020, which are that various sector plans, which are not a prerequisite for enacting Section 6, first need to be adopted. The question is, during a severe energy crisis, are these sector plans – which may become null and void, as the integrated energy plan is developed – a valid reason for the President to delay real action on energy planning? Can South Africans really afford to wait another year before our government even starts to think about developing a proper energy plan? South Africans should question whether these decisions are being driven by the needs of the people or whether they are politically motivated. Additionally, many of these sector plans have already taken several years to develop and are still incomplete.”

SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis says, “It is good news that the President has capitulated and that he has already made public his intention to bring Section 6 into operation, but 1 April 2024 to start the IEP process in terms of Section 6 seems to be kicking the can as far down the road as possible. And we have not seen real commitment from the government to do what is needed for the energy crisis to be addressed. The situation is incredibly urgent, South Africa is facing a long cold winter with power cuts over 6 hours per day at present. Why does the government need so much time to start the overarching plan for energy? Why plan for the IEP for next April 2024 when the energy crisis should be their top priority? This is not even the bare minimum of what is needed. Government must act faster!”

She says, “South Africa needs an urgent resolution to the energy crises now (not next year) with all the mess that has been created as the result of doing energy projects without an energy plan. Nonetheless, after 15 years since the National Energy Act (NEA) was first assented to in 2008 there is finally some movement. And we did not have to go all the way to court.”

The Green Connection and SAFCEI say they believe in dialogue and finding constructive solutions for the greater good and, therefore, remain open to meaningful engagement with government on this issue. And while the eco-justice organisations are happy that there is some movement toward realising an Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), they continue to urge South Africans to question government’s motive for the additional delay in bringing Section 6 into operation, and thus slow-walking the development of the IEP. South Africans should ask their MPs and representatives about the IEP to make sure their views are being heard in Parliament.

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