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Eskom is in crisis. In recent weeks, this has been brought home to SA’s 58-million citizens as major power cuts hit the country. The blackouts have renewed focus on the power utility’s economic and technical problems. But Eskom’s problems point to the much bigger issue of a country struggling to map out a new energy regime — one that reduces its very high levels of dependency on coal in a way that doesn’t devastate people’s lives.

SA is highly dependent on coal — almost 90% of its energy comes from coal-fired power stations. The urgency of change is clear on both global and local levels. Mining and burning coal is one of the most destructive activities on the planet. It represents an immediate threat to all forms of life and to scarce supplies of water, the degradation of arable land and toxic pollution of the air and water with extremely negative health effects.

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