Picture: 123RF/PETKOV
Picture: 123RF/PETKOV

One of the disappointments of living in SA right now is that we seem to live in the past, while much of the rest of the world is grasping the future.

The powers-that-be seem to think that once the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us we will return to exporting vehicles with internal combustion engines and to using and exporting coal like we used to do in decades past. They forget the harm done to lungs and lives by emissions from Eskom, Sasol and the other big polluters, making us more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

India, until recently one of the biggest importers of coal, has signed up for the world’s largest solar power project as part of its thrust to deliver renewable energy to every home and commercial building in the country.

Europe and China are fast switching to electric vehicles and the US Congress is debating measures to ban new internal combustion engines vehicles from 2035.  Tesla’s rising market capitalisation is now higher than ExxonMobil’s fast declining market cap, in a real sign of the times.

SA's economic recovery should be based on using the resources of the private sector, rather than our cash-strapped fiscus, to rapidly build and operate solar and wind farms, big batteries and electric vehicle charging stations. This will provide clean jobs for tens of thousands and produce electricity priced much lower than that from Eskom’s creaking coal-fired stations.

At the same time import taxes on electric vehicles should be abolished and manufacturers incentivised to produce non-internal combustion engines vehicles and bicycles. The country’s state oil companies with their expensive boards of directors should be abolished.

The private sector should also be charged with rolling out fast, cheap, reliable connectivity to each and every person in the country. Among other things, this will allow even the most disadvantaged learners access to quality online education; no longer will we have to worry about pit-latrine drownings and absentee teachers. Again, more jobs will be created without taxing the fiscus.

Next, a basic income grant delivered directly into bank accounts or cellphones will provide the poorest of the poor with a safety net to buy food and basic necessities. The income tax system can be tweaked to claim back the grant — and more — from those who don’t need it.

The manufacturing, retail and agricultural sectors will benefit from consumers with more to spend, leading in turn to more profits which can be taxed to pay for the grant. As well as for the infrastructure — creating yet more new jobs — needed to cope with the ravages of our next crisis, climate change.

Finally, another move that would not cost the government a cent would be to give every inhabitant of a former homeland freehold right to the land on which they live. Overnight the most indigent among us would own a valuable asset they can sell, rent or pledge so they can buy a tractor or a greenhouse or start their own business. That would be real empowerment.

Sadly, it’s just a handful of Luddites living in the past that holds us back from grasping this rosy, green future.

Brian Paxton

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