Electricity pylons at an Eskom coal-burning power station near Sasolburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Electricity pylons at an Eskom coal-burning power station near Sasolburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

In his speech to the nation recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged companies not to declare force majeure on suppliers as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. So why is Eskom being allowed to declare force majeure on its contracts with suppliers of wind and solar power, just so that the utility can continue to run its own dirty coal-fired power stations?

Research has shown that the regions surrounding Eskom’s and Sasol’s highveld plants are among the most heavily polluted on the planet. Related research has shown that PM2.5 pollution, the type emitted by both, is a serious contributor to respiratory diseases and death.

Research on the US Covid-19 experience, published by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health last week, showed people living in highly polluted areas had a higher chance of dying from the virus than those living in more pristine areas. No doubt SA research would show the same pattern. The poor mineworkers driven by their union leaders to produce coal at close quarters for Eskom and Sasol would be doubly or trebly endangered.

Maybe it’s time mineral & energy resources minister Gwede Mantashe and his union cronies were charged with attempted murder for dragging their feet on implementing renewable energy projects. The department of environmental affairs should also be in the dock for recently doubling the already high limits of sulphur dioxide — another pollutant toxic to SA lungs — that Eskom and Sasol are allowed to emit.

Of course, our other significant sources of lung-debilitating air pollution are the petrol and diesel-powered vehicles we drive. With crude oil prices at record lows, now should be the time for Sasol to be closed and for fuel taxes to be hiked to fill the fiscus and discourage driving. Former South African Elon Musk should be encouraged to build his Tesla electric vehicles in SA both for local use and export. In the meantime, the punitive 20% import duty on electric vehicles should be replaced with incentives to discard old gas guzzlers.

Brian Paxton 

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