Mpumalanga is a textbook case of the social and economic risks of the transition to a cleaner environment. Both domestic and export demand for coal are plummeting as companies, households and electricity producers move to cleaner technologies. The problem is that, as usual, the costs of the transition are being pushed mostly onto working people and the poor, in the form of job losses and more precarious local economies. The costs affect the whole coal value chain, which was historically central to growth in SA. They directly affect workers in the mines and electricity plants, many of them the mainstay of small Mpumalanga towns. They also hit the small businesses that grew up around them, ranging from coal transporters to equipment suppliers to spaza shops. In responding to the decline in coal, stakeholders have increasingly used the concept of “just transition” to legitimise demands. But some groups think it means society should save coal production at any cost, while others use it ...

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