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Save Jobs Or Save Energy? The Dilemma Of Going Green

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The High Court case, in Pretoria on March 27, saw the full gamut of human emotions: anger; frustration and folly, followed by joy.

The latter emotion came from the long-suffering 27 independent power producers who won the case against an interdict to pave the way for the signing of the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the Department of Energy – the 20-year agreements that give them a chance to claw back $3.8 billion in investment.

The deal will add 2,300MW of green power to the estimated 40,000MW in installed capacity. Despite this, green power will make up 5% of South Africa’s power.

Outside the court, the thwarted National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) members and pressure group Transform SA weighed in with the anger and frustration coupled with a threat to block the streets in protest. As the union licked its wounds, the court poured on salt by ordering it to pay costs as it stuck the application from the roll.

“We got it from Eskom that if they introduce these renewables, they’ve done calculations on power station by power station on how many jobs will be lost. When we did this study last year it was found that 30,000 to 40,000 jobs are likely to be lost and there seems to be no interest about that,” says Numsa Secretary Irvin Jim.

“We are prepared to block the streets to achieve this.”

This claim despite the fact that Eskom will have to close down a number of its ageing and crumbling coal-fired power stations.

READ MORE: On The Road To A Green Future

“The South African population is being taken for a ride. Our fiscus is being looted because these companies, IPPs are only producing 5% power and taking 30% of Eskom’s profits,” says Transform SA’s Adil Chabeleng outside the court.

The mighty National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – the biggest union in Africa with more than 300,000 members – agrees with Numsa that the unions don’t want private money generating the people’s electricity. They also feel that capitalists have benefited from public money ploughed into kick-starting green energy with preferential tariffs.

“We view this capitalist IPPs deal as a backdoor privatization of Eskom. The plan is to privatize 42% of Eskom by 2030 masquerading as the implementation of clean energy,” the NUM said in an angry statement.

“We are going to mobilize all our members and society to revolt against this planned madness called IPPs.”

Days after this fire and fury, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe shocked many by putting pen-to-paper for the PPAs to end the years of waiting.

The big problem now is to revive the dormant green power industry in South Africa.

“We have to resuscitate the industry to generate this power. Supply chains have to be rebuilt and manufacturing restarted. The whole supply chain has lain dormant for nearly three years,” says Brenda Martin, a board member of the South African Renewable Energy Council that represents most of the 27 IPPS.

Martin also refutes one of the claims of the unions that green power will see billions leaving South Africa and into the pockets of foreign investors. Numsa’s legal counsel Advocate Nazeer Cassim had argued in court that the signing of the IPPs could be viewed as a form of economic looting.

“Only 25% of this deal is owned by foreign investors and the rules of the game is that most of the money must stay in the country.”

Whatever the fall-out over the signing of the PPAs, just weeks before, this unsteady progress was a pipe dream after many months of dithering and a court case.

Picture this: multi-millionaire, suited and booted, investors leave air-conditioned airport lounges to fly thousands of miles to Africa to accept a government invitation to finally sign up for a return on their investment; only to arrive to, amid confusion, a court case, disappointment and a union that they’d never heard of, threatening to block the streets in protest against the deal. Confused? Most of them were.

“Excuse me,” a fresh-off-the-plane Italian investor, who looked like a clown lost in a circus, at the Department of Energy, asked one of the many young journalists at the press briefing, in Pretoria, on March 13.

“What is happening?”

The confused man from Milan was one of a number of foreign investors, from Spain to the United States, who flew in to sign PPA contracts. Investors expect it will take them a decade to claw back their money.

There was chaos before the investors landed that morning. Overnight, the militant Numsa – a union that appears to have forgotten that the Berlin wall came down – claimed it had won a late-night court interdict against the signing.

When it came to the signing later that day, in Pretoria, Energy Minister Radebe told investors that the courts had in fact not issued an interdict, as Numsa had claimed; it rather postponed the next hearing until March 27. You can understand the confusion of the man from Milan.

“It’s a banana republic,” chirped one of the South African investors in the wake of a day to forget in the course of renewable energy.

READ MORE: Shedding Light On Renewable Energy

More inexplicable for investors was how these IPP contracts raised the ire of the unions almost overnight; there was hardly a peep from them in the years of government foot-dragging over signing them that has left many of the green power producers; at least 14 of the 27, according to industry, sources – on the brink of bankruptcy.

The coal-fired power stations of South Africa, built in the 1970s, are ramshackle and inefficient. Last year, the government said it was going to shut down the 3,000MW Kriel, 1,000MW Komati, 2,000MW Hendrina and the 1,600MW Camden power stations, all in Mpumalanga, anyway.

In any case, renewable energy generates a mere 5% of South Africa’s total power so the chances of green energy elbowing out coal, which produces nearly 80%, are unlikely in the extreme. It is more likely that South Africa’s coal-fired power stations will perish under the weight of repair bills and the cost of compliance with environmental regulations on account of the vast amount of acrid black smoke they belch into the African sky every year.

Other energy experts put down the government lethargy over signing the PPAs to ill-advised complacency. Low growth leading to low demand for electricity, plus a 500% increase in cost since 2007, has seen a cessation of power cuts in South Africa, for the time being.

Under the current energy scenario, South Africa will have more than 60GW of capacity by 2022, against a flagging demand of below 30GW, Ted Blom, a partner at Mining & Energy Advisory, said.
All in all, South Africa, which once dreamed of building the continent’s leading green power industry, creating thousands of jobs, has done quite a lot to destroy that dream. As well as the near three-year delay over signing the IPP contracts – the government has been penny-pinching, that is, trying to negotiate down tariffs with the argument that the country doesn’t really need energy right now.

What it means is that South African renewable energy producers are now looking across the continent for projects in favour of trusting the backed-up process in their own country. One of the unintended consequences of this whole controversy is likely to be that a score of African nations – who once lagged behind in renewable energy – could find themselves at the cutting edge of the industry thanks to South African technology and knowhow fostered by South African tax money and exported thanks to foot-dragging over contracts in Pretoria. Now, for hard-pressed South African taxpayers, that is an issue worth blocking the streets over.

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Economy

South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs

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South Africa has a jobs crisis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, 6.14 million people were out of work, an unemployment rate of 27.1%, which is one of the highest rates in the world, along with sub-Saharan African countries like Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia.

South Africa’s labour market has another important distinction. Only about three million people who are working – about 18% of all employed (16.53 million) – are in the informal sector. That’s much lower than other developing countries. For example in India and Ethiopia, up to 50% of those with jobs are employed in the informal sector. The figure is as high as 90% in Ghana and Mali.

There are two schools of thought around the role and value of a country’s informal sector. Some argue that it’s an important alternative to the limited opportunities available in the formal sector; a survivalist strategy that allows those without much formal education to work and earn money. In addition, others argue, the informal sector is also an important space for entrepreneurs.

But there are some who disagree, arguing that employment in the informal sector tends to be poorly paid and precarious. A mere 20% of informal sector employees are hired permanently, compared to 70% of those in the formal sector.

Little is known about how many people transition between the two sectors, a phenomenon called “churning”. Addressing this knowledge gap is important for a number of reasons. These include the fact that informal workers may be spending some time in the formal sector, getting valuable skills and work experience to boost their chances at formal employment, with the hope that they eventually settle permanently in the formal sector, which would be good news.

Conversely, knowing whether there’s a high rate of transition from the formal to the informal sector would be cause for concern because it would suggest high rates of retrenchment and fewer formal job opportunities.

The data

We set out to understand “churning” between South Africa’s formal and informal sectors. To do this we analysed data from the country’s National Income Dynamics Study – a study that was conducted four times between 2008 and 2015 by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit based at the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics.

We found there was a lot of movement between the informal and formal sectors during these years. But there were very few instances of people making successful, lasting transitions from informal to formal sector employment.

This emphasises South Africa’s skills mismatch. The formal sector requires skills that those in the informal sector simply don’t have. More education and support is necessary to bridge this gap.

Our data were drawn from the National Income Dynamics Survey, which is the first national household panel study in South Africa. It examines the living standards of individuals and households over time.

By analysing data from the four waves of the study we were able to make some key findings about churning, and about the informal sector more broadly. These included:

  • Only 8% of those surveyed were inactive (7%) or unemployed (1%) in all four waves – that is, throughout the seven-year period. About 54% were employed in one to three waves, meaning they worked transitorily but not continuously;
  • only 3% worked in the informal sector in all four waves;
  • only 12% always worked in the formal sector during the seven years under review; and,
  • 8% of individuals worked throughout the seven years under review but transitioned between the two sectors.

These results clearly indicate that a high proportion of the labour force participants have been in and out of employment (which is not surprising, given the country’s high unemployment rate), some workers enjoy the privilege of always working in the formal sector, and most importantly, churning between the informal and formal sectors definitely takes place to some extent.

The findings also emphasised how precarious the informal sector is. For instance, 67% of those who started off working in the formal sector in 2008 remained there seven years later. This suggests that for those who initially secured work in the formal sector, retrenchment likelihood is not as high as perhaps anticipated. The retention figure in the informal sector was just 39%. Only 27% of those in the informal sector successfully transitioned to the formal sector.

The country’s many social inequalities were evident in the data. Black women without school leaving certificates aged between 25 and 44 years were most likely to remain in the informal sector. Highly educated white men living in the urban areas of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces were most likely to successfully transition from the informal to the formal sector.

Filling the gaps

Given what we’ve learned from this research, how might the government and policy makers deal with those who “churn”?

First, the country’s education system must do more to produce skilled labour in the areas the economy requires. Formal firms could help here, by providing assistance and information on what skills are needed and how to develop these. This implies that strengthening the partnership between industry and universities is important, as this would help those who are able to access higher education.

Those who don’t go on to higher education, or don’t complete their secondary schooling, also need to be helped. The government should more actively provide workshops and specialised assistance to enhance entrepreneurship skills and advise small informal firms on growth strategies. These incentives will assist in their growth, long-term sustainability and successful transition to the formal sector.

In addition, larger, more established formal firms can also play a role by helping to develop and train informal sector workers and providing expert guidance to informal firms. This assistance can be incentivised through tax reductions and the prospects of a larger collective market via the informal sector.

Lastly, the government should continuously alleviate the numerous barriers to the informal economy. These include limited credit and training opportunities, poor infrastructure and the red tape that makes it difficult to start a business.

Moegammad Faeez Nackerdien Lecturer, University of the Western Cape

Derek Yu Associate Professor, Economics, University of the Western Cape

-The Conversation

The Conversation

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SMMEs Meltdowns Continue Because Of Eskom Power Cuts

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Small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that are feeling the strain from Eskom’s load-shedding are appealing to the South African government to come up with a solution, because they are forced to shut their doors.


South Africa has been experiencing stage 4 load-shedding from the beginning of March. As a result, power cuts are forcing small businesses to shut their doors as swiping facilities and security cameras do not function.

Johannesburg based Gim Bekele, who owns a clothing store in Randburg, says they are losing a significant number of customers as a result of load-shedding.

“When there is load-shedding we are forced to closed the shop because people can’t come in when it is dark. The cameras are not working as well as the cashier machines,” he says.      

“So that means we lose out on a lot of money. On a normal day without load shedding we make above R5,000 but when there is load shedding, it is a struggle to even reach R1,000,” says Bekele.

READ MORE | #Budget2019 | South African government not taking on #Eskom’s debt

Bekele says between the loss of customers and an increase in the monthly expenses he can no longer afford to pay his employees. 

“I had to let go of two employees because I could no longer afford to pay them.  The rent is high, and now we are barely meeting our sales target because of load shedding, how could we continue to pay for their salaries as well?” 

“We can’t even afford a generator at this point,” added Bekele.

Another entrepreneur, Shaodong Zhuang who owns a takeaway shop in Randburg says his stock is compromised.

“I usually sell fresh meat and some of my meat gets spoiled and I have to throw it away,” says Zhuang.

I am basically making a small change. Our government is really not good. The people are suffering heavily because they are not running things properly.

Energy expert Adi Nchabeleng says that small businesses should brace themselves because there won’t be any turn around soon, but they could expect to see some form of solution a year from now.

“It is a delayed reaction that caused this whole advent of load-shedding.  The current executive and the new democratic dispensation inherited the current dispensation of Eskom years ago and they didn’t do anything with any of power stations.  They just used them as they are,” says Nchabeleng.

Nchabeleng says that it is unfortunate that small businesses have to take the heat for poor planning.

“If they do not have enough electricity reserves it means their shops and businesses must be closed. A lot of people are going to be out of jobs… So the impact of load-shedding on businesses is so severe.

“In order for the business to survive, you need to spend R500 ($7,25)-R1,000 ($14,49)daily, just to make sure that the generator has fuel, and I don’t think the government understands the seriousness of this matter,” says Nchabeleng.

“They have not woken up to the reality of what the people go through,” he added.

READ MORE | South Africa’s Eskom Extends Power Cuts, Needs Bailout By April

He advises that in order for small businesses to weather the electricity crises, they need to reduce their expenditure but he does not foresee that as the best solution for employees. 

“The usual expenses that the majority of businesses will choose to cut are their staff. They will say ‘when we have load-shedding we don’t need workers.’ We cannot go for that solution, we need to look at a much more different solution in relation to businesses,” says Nchabeleng.

He believes that the South African government should take responsibility for providing SMMEs with assistance.

“I would suggest that the government compensate the losses incurred by small businesses. This is a direct cost problem; this is not something that happened sporadically. The government knew that there was going to be load-shedding, they knew that there was not going to be enough power available,” says Nchabeleng.

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Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

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The multimillion-dollar circus called Davos rolled into the Swiss ski-resort yet again, in January, in all its big deal bombast and bean counting glory. This year, African debate was scant: the man who broke the Bank of England foretold of a broken world laden with fear and doom; there was scary talk of cyber terrorism; just another day, another Davos, for the World Economic Forum.


If you want an example of how the dash of Davos can descend into self-parody, you should have taken a look at the huge banner draped across the posh Belvedere Hotel throughout the World Economic Forum in the mountain ski-resort.

It was on the main street through Davos where thousands of delegates slip and slide to scores of functions – with at least one or two slipping over every day – along a line of shops taken over by big money corporate sponsors.

Much more money is being made elsewhere in this ski-resort: the people who live here go away for the week and let out their homes for a king’s ransom; $30,000 for the week is nothing unusual.  

READ MORE |World Will Improve Where It Matters Most In 2019

Most people saw an irony in the banner, yet clearly the people who spent a fortune on putting it up there couldn’t have.

“Free trade is great,” says the banner on behalf of Brexit-bound Great Britain.

“Didn’t someone tell them they were about to leave one of the greatest free trade zones in the world?” says one passer-by with a cynical chuckle.   

The crack summed up some of the irony that swirls around when cohorts of bean counters, highly-paid administrators and bosses gather in an Alpine icebox to solve the problems of the world.

The bigwigs weren’t there and this year, there was less buzz and fewer queues outside the briefing rooms.

Donald Trump, who made a big splash at Davos last year, stayed at home trying to figure out his government shutdown. The four ‘Ms’ – May, Modi, Macron and Mnangagwa weren’t there either; at least two of them tied up with fighting fires, from Brexit to economic meltdown, in their own backyards.

 Empty hot seats, at Davos, at a time when the world is crying out for the wisdom of sage leaders.

Instead, it was left to business leaders, like the Australian-born CEO of billion-dollar turnover infrastructure giant Arup, Greg Hodkinson, to cut to the chase.

“We need clear political leadership in this fractured world… otherwise we are going to get easy political leadership preying on people’s fears,” says Hodkinson at one of the first panels of WEF 2019, on infrastructure.

READ MORE | Why The Richest And Most Powerful Go To Davos

Hodkinson, who has worked in infrastructure for 40 years, also said investment in infrastructure could no longer ignore the future, or the deteriorating environment.

 “Carbon should be priced into infrastructure projects and that will act as an economic trigger for private money to come in because not only will it mean more revenue, it will help us put more money into saving the environment,” says Hodkinson.

According to the WEF Global Risks Report for 2018, some of the top risks by impact are posed by the elements: floods and storms; water crisis, plus earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos and electric storms.

“By 2040, the investment gap in global infrastructure is forecast to reach $18 trillion against a projected requirement of $97 trillion. Against this backdrop, we strongly recommend that businesses develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy and act on it now,” warns Alison Martin, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, in the report.

The money is there, according to Hodkinson, but needs to be channeled with foresight.

“Even if someone is building a car parking garage, I ask what else can they do with it because they won’t need it one day,” says Hodkinson.

“The money is there. Investors sank six trillion dollars into United States junk bonds last year; if investors are prepared to roll the dice on junk bonds, what about infrastructure investment?”

Investors, on this day at Davos, heard that 65% of world infrastructure projects are unbankable without government guarantees. Private money is needed to fill the gaping infrastructure gap, yet negotiations between investor and government officials can prove difficult.

READ MORE | World Bank Sees Global Growth Slowing In 2019

Just ask Heng Swee Keat, the Cambridge-educated finance minister of Singapore, the former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the father of infrastructure on the industrious little island who harnessed private money for public good – the legendary late premier Lee Kuan Yew.

The finance minister warned relationships between public and private sectors could be “lumpy”.

“I remember a man coming to me and saying he was never going to invest in infrastructure in your country again, I asked him ‘why’ and he said, because the last time we invested and made money the government came back to us and asked ‘why are you making so much money’,’’ chuckled Swee Keat.

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