June 22, 2024
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South Africa’s ANC Faces Backlash Over Coal Plant Shutdowns

In a ward where South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) once enjoyed strong support, party campaign worker Poppy Vilakazi is encountering a chilly reception. Vilakazi, speaking from Komati, a village nestled in Mpumalanga province, finds residents disgruntled over the closure of a local power plant, a move they attribute to ANC negligence.

The shuttering of coal-powered facilities like the one in Komati has become a contentious issue ahead of the May 29 elections. With Eskom, the state utility, grappling with power shortages, President Cyril Ramaphosa faces the daunting task of reconciling the need for increased energy production with global pressure to decarbonize.

However, the transition to renewable energy, exemplified by the conversion of the Komati plant to solar and wind energy, has not been smooth. Local residents like Dumisani Mpungose, who lost his job due to the plant’s closure, lament the lack of promised employment opportunities and the ensuing economic hardships.

While Ramaphosa’s administration champions the shift towards renewables, critics within the ANC, including Ministers Gwede Mantashe and Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, have denounced the closure of coal plants like Komati, citing its adverse impact on local communities.

The ANC’s political rivals offer contrasting solutions. The Economic Freedom Fighters advocate for the retention of coal plants and the expansion of nuclear energy, while the Democratic Alliance proposes liberalizing the energy sector to reduce Eskom’s monopoly.

South Africa’s energy transition comes with a hefty price tag of up to $46 billion, necessitating financial assistance from international partners. Despite this, skepticism remains high among residents of Mpumalanga, the epicenter of South Africa’s coal industry, who fear the loss of livelihoods and economic stability.

With Mpumalanga serving as a stronghold of ANC support, the party is expected to retain electoral dominance in the region. However, disillusionment among affected communities poses a challenge to the ANC’s electoral prospects, with many like Mpungose feeling betrayed by the party’s stance on coal plant closures.

As South Africa grapples with the complexities of its energy transition, the ANC faces a precarious balancing act between economic imperatives, environmental concerns, and political exigencies.

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