Gordhan: SA’s ‘people-centred’ just transition mirrors challenge of anti-apartheid activists

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Photo: Presidential Climate Change Commission

SA’s “just transition” to sustainable energy needs to keep the millions of citizens in the country as a focal point, says Minister Pravin Gordhan.Gordhan says the challenge faced by those driving the just transition is similar to that encountered by anti-apartheid activists.While emphasis is placed on mobilising the participation of different groups in developing the just transition framework, the youth feels left out of the conversation.Achieving a just transition to sustainable energy in South Africa mirrors the challenge faced by anti-apartheid activists in the ’70s and ’80s in mobilising different groups of people to participate in the change, according to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.The minister on Friday delivered the closing address at the Presidential Climate Change Commission’s (PCCC) two-day multi-stakeholder conference on the just transition.Stakeholders in government, business, labour, communities and civil society had opportunities to raise their concerns about the challenges and share their hopes about the opportunities in achieving a carbon-free and climate-resilient economy.A key message throughout the conference was the imperative for the transition to be “people-centred”. Gordhan said that South Africa’s 60 million citizens need to be a focal point in the changes.”The challenge that you will face is the challenge that we have encountered as activists in the ’70s and ’80s: How you make change happen in South Africa through a process of mass mobilisation,” he said.Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande echoed views that driving the just transition requires the cooperation of stakeholders in society. He noted that delegates representing communities felt left out of the transition.”At times there seems to be tension between community representatives and labour representatives. I think we have got a lot to learn from our own anti-apartheid struggles in the 1980s of the close relationship between workers and communities.” – Blade NzimandeNzimande said that the platform created by the PCCC must be used to catalyse relations between stakeholders. That way, tensions can be managed, and there can be unity – between workers and communities particularly.READ | Gordhan: Load shedding ‘might’ move to Stage 1 – but Eskom sticks to status quoBuilding on this, Gordhan shared that the PCCC, through the development of a just transition framework, is aiming to put together a single set of goals that different stakeholders can contribute to, agree to and work towards. “If we do not get this consensus and convergence, we will still be pulling at different directions,” said Gordhan.The PCCC is essentially setting up the framework for a social compact that is co-created by different interest groups who feel they are representative and can be participants in the process in the truest sense.Building trustBut trust is a major factor, and a lack of it can be a stumbling block to the desired cohesion.Gordhan said continuing to meet, engage and visit communities affected by the transition – as the commission has done in the past few weeks leading up to the conference – will help build trust.”There will be differences from time to time, but that is where negotiating skills will come in and conflict resolution skills will come in, so that despite different perspectives, we will find common ground.”- Pravin GordhanWhat undermines mobilisation is “corrupt and unethical” practice, he warned.Gordhan said there was now an opportunity to tackle developmental and climate issues and those issues facing democracy. Democracy needs to be guarded against elitists and interest groupings that are trying to “hijack” it and prevent it from serving the people, he explained. As a remedy, ensuring that people’s voices are heard and that they are included in processes is important to deepen democracy, he added. The just transition must be meaningful to those affected by it – they must be allowed to participate in the process so that they can also realise its benefits. These benefits can be jobs, training and even less pollution, Gordhan said.READ | 5 ways SA can achieve a just, equitable transitionThere was emphasis on the importance of including workers and communities in developing the framework so that they do not carry the risks of the transition without sharing in the opportunities.But some delegates representing the youth and those with disabilities raised concerns that their participation in the process is not taken seriously. One delegate remarked that the voices of the youth were “suppressed”.Mbulaheni Mbodi, a commissioner who represents labour, spoke to the importance of ensuring youth participation in the process. “If we do not inform them [youth], they will blow what we are trying to build,” he said.Ayakha Melithafa, a commissioner and youth representative, said that for young people, the views of business outweigh those of society and the people on the ground facing the harsh effects of climate change. She also called out the PCCC for hosting the conference at a time when the youth would either be at school or university, and could consequently not attend.”We want to be part of the co-creation of framework and process of implementation,” she said.In a press release following the conference, the PCCC said it would continue to engage with workers and communities most impacted by climate change, to ensure their voices and experiences are considered. The PCCC’s draft Just Transition Framework will be updated after consideration of comments received.The framework will be then submitted to Cabinet for consideration in mid-2022.