Just Transition

Documentary seeks to ignite conversation on Mpumalanga’s just transition

25 April 2022

By Terence Creamer

original article here

 

A new documentary, highlighting both the fears surrounding, and potential of pursuing, a so-called just transition in the coalfields of South Africa, has been released on YouTube.

The 30-minute video includes interviews with community members, workers and businesspeople from the Steve Tshwete and Emalahleni municipalities, in Mpumalanga, whose lives and livelihoods are currently inextricably linked to coal.

It also features the views of environmental activists and researchers who are part of a joint initiative established to engage with local stakeholders on the just transition. The initiative is being led by Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), the National Labour and Economic Institute (Naledi), groundWork and urban energy and climate practitioner Peta Wolpe.

Titled ‘Voices from under a dark cloud – towards a just transition in the coalfields of South Africa’, the documentary has been produced by Joelle Chesselet and Lloyd Ross of Shifty Media, with funding from the UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions South Africa Programme and the European Union, through the Green Economy Coalition.

While highlighting the negative healthenvironmental and climate effects of coal mining and electricity production in the two towns, the film also documents the importance of the energy mineral to both business activity in the area and to jobs, with 150 000 people employed directly in the coal value chain and an estimated 650 000 indirectly.

It also shows retrenched Optimum mineworker Sicelo Masino expressing his yearning for the reopening of the mine so that his livelihood can be restored, Glencore shop steward Simon Mdluli stressing that “our bread is buttered by this coal”, and Naledi acting executive director Hameda Deedat arguing that “you cannot close coal-fired power stations and close the mines and think that it’s okay”.

However, the documentary also points to a growing acceptance of the need for a transition, not only to improve health and environmental conditions, but also to support the emergence of more sustainable enterprises and employment prospects.

That said, the worker and community members interviewed all stress the importance of consultation, community involvement and reskilling in the transition process, warning that it is unlikely to be just if their hopes and fears are not heard and addressed.

TIPS senior economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair argues that, at the most ambitious level, the transition should be one that embraces participatory, distributive and restorative justice.

“We would miss a massive opportunity if we don’t pursue that transformative agenda.

“That means participatory justice – making sure that the process itself is inclusive.

“Then it’s about distributive justice, [so that] whoever loses their job, or loses their livelihood as a result of the transition, should have an alternative.

“And it is also about restorative justice – can we improve access to services, can we improve the direct environment of people in terms of air, water, land, and can we have a better economy for all by addressing the historical inequalities,” Montmasson-Clair outlines.

The documentary itself draws much of its content from a series of webinars and local engagements that have taken place over the past year. And those behind its production stressed that it is intended primarily to foster a more intensive dialogue on how to ensure that the transition away from coal is just and delivers tangible projects and employment opportunities.

Some of these potential alternatives are showcased in the film, including developments under way in the agricultural sector.

However, the drivers of the joint initiative believe there are also significant opportunities in tourismmanufacturing, and renewable energy, particularly as Eskom begins to repower some of its decommissioning coal-fired power stations. 

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