President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE

Judging by their actions and utterances, our leaders are oblivious to the climate crisis taking place around the world, including in SA. Some parts of our country have not experienced rain for more than six years. Dams are drying up and borehole water is becoming more saline. Whole communities are dependent on charity water tankers. Farmers are selling or moving stock. Crop yields are down. Species are dying out. Tourism is going to wilt as potential visitors count the carbon cost of long flights here. Unless we do something drastic soon, things are going to get worse, much worse.

The president doesn’t need an expensive economic advisory council to tell him what to do; it’s obvious. Close all our coal-fired power stations with their emissions of carbon dioxide and soot, and water-guzzling propensity. Get the private sector to build solar and wind energy facilities. Subsidise small-scale PV installations on homes, offices and factories. Convert our car-making plants to make electric cars. Install charging facilities countrywide. Stop state purchases of nonelectric cars. Rejuvenate electric rail services.

That’s not the end. Put solar panel arrays on dams to generate power and cut evaporation. Use agro-voltaics to grow crops under solar panels. Give small-scale farmers in the former homelands freehold ownership of their land so they can raise funds to build solar-powered greenhouses. Phase out the farming of sugar cane and tobacco; instead use the land and water to grow food. Prepare our coasts for rising seas and storm surges.

Slowing climate change will not be the only benefit. There will be jobs for hundreds of thousands. Low-cost renewable energy will give our mining and manufacturing sectors a competitive advantage. SA’s huge oil import bill will disappear. The health of people living near power stations will improve, at the same time reducing the load on hard-pressed state hospitals and clinics. Life expectancy will increase.

Instead of quibbling about the nuances of BEE, why can’t our political parties give us the greener, wealthier future we deserve? Instead, we have Gwede Mantashe trying to create black champions in the sunset coal mining industry, where internal and export markets are collapsing fast. Eskom unions are resisting renewables while their members die of smoke inhalation. Investing in developing a potentially stranded oilfield in corruption-prone South Sudan smacks of further fiscal criminality.

Maybe it’s time the rest of us laid criminal charges against our leaders for the murder and attempted murder, not just of our citizens but also of the future of our children and grandchildren.

Brian Paxton

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