Access to energy is crucial to SA transformation

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Mar 9, 2022


By Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

The recent Africa Energy Indaba held in Cape Town brought together major energy players who control South Africa’s trajectory in terms of energy production and value chains in a multi-billion-rand industry.

The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD) participated at the Indaba to drive the need for policy reform and development that accelerates transformation, and promotes the inclusion of all marginalized groups across the African continent including women, youth and persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the Department’s participation brings forward a clear message that we, on the margins, must inform the development and growth of our continent.

Over the three-day Indaba, our Department hosted a series of panel discussions and exhibitions on the different perspectives on women’s effective participation in the energy sector and economy at large. The active role of women, youth and persons with disabilities is key to driving a transformative agenda for the energy sector across the continent.

In this context, women remain the primary users and producers of energy within the household, and in emerging industrial countries. Women’s organisations continue to intensify their call for environmentally benign energy sources, and advocate for the use of new technologies in the development and expansion of the energy sector.

We must explore the upskilling of women, youth and persons with disabilities in this sector. The energy sector is diverse ranging from renewable energy, green energy, nuclear energy and shale gas amongst others.

The diversity of the sector requires specialised skillsets. The process of transformation within the energy sector must be supplemented by upskilling marginalised groups to unleash opportunities.

It is also important to recognise that women have been at the forefront of major energy innovations in our communities, however, this is not being translated to on-the-ground investment in these communities. The untapped potential of women’s participation in the energy sector remains stunted by the structural barriers women are faced with.

As the DWYPD, we continue to explore the regulatory environment within the independent Power Producer Programme and its Value Chain for the Empowerment of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. During the Africa Energy Indaba, we highlighted the need to explore the implications of the regulatory environment in the energy sector as a barrier to driving transformation.

We must interrogate whether the regulatory environment promotes the effective participation of marginalised groups in the energy sector and the larger economy.

Transformation of the energy sector must translate into the active participation of women, youth and persons with disabilities owned businesses in the energy value chain. They need to be at the forefront of entrepreneurship and innovative energy solutions in the production, distribution and servicing of energy technologies in Africa. To realise this transformative agenda in the energy sector, we must invest in access to innovative and affordable financial products.

The unmeasured, unrecognised and unremunerated contributions of women in the development of communities and economies, undermines their critical role in driving sustainable development.

Equally, to achieve transformation, we must address the different structural, social and economic barriers women, youth and persons with disabilities experience. The low levels of financial and technical skills affect access to funding and how projects are managed. We must enhance access to information, capability development, mentorship, training and networks that support women in the energy sector.

Let us also acknowledge efforts like that of Lesedi Nuclear Services whose Skills Academy take in youth as part of their training and internship programmes, to skill youth in technical fields like Mechanical Fitting, Boilermaking, and Basic Welding.

We need more of this to impact the lives of youth across the country.

The current debt financing model for infrastructure projects usually includes stringent criteria imposed by credit providers, thus creating a barrier to women’s inclusion. We need to develop innovative and sustainable funding models to accommodate women and new entrants in the energy sector.

By addressing the barriers that impede women’s effective and meaningful participation in all spheres of society, we will be able to drive more competitive economies across the continent which will improve the quality of livelihoods.

During the 2022 State of the Nation Address, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the need for reliable and accessible energy in order to promote economic and social progress. Old and emerging economies need reliable energy to thrive. The absence of reliable energy sources threatens livelihoods disrupts business activities and places additional strain on families and communities.

The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) is one of the South African government’s urgent interventions to enhance the country’s power generation capacity. There are growing calls for countries to strike a balance between charting low-carbon emissions, building climate resilience, transitioning towards a green growth pathway and accelerating universal access to energy with energy resources that support the country’s economic vitality.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) must prioritise the increased use of renewable energy due to the abundant natural resources on the continent. The AfCFTA is the largest in the world with 54 African countries committed to accelerating Africa’s trade and development. To strengthen trade across the continent we must strengthen the energy sector across the continent, placing women and other marginalized groups as key beneficiaries of equitably benefit from renewable energy initiatives and value chains.

However, we cannot fully maximise the groundbreaking and transformative potential of the AfCFTA without reliable and accessible energy. Nor must the growth of the energy sector occur at the expense of our environment.

South Africa is chairing the UN Women 66th Commission on the Status of Women. This year’s theme is “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”. We continue to advocate for the clean production of energy as the effects of environmental degradation are mostly experienced by women and girls. It promotes unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and is at the root of global poverty and inequalities as outlined in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995.

We must ensure that we are able to locate the transformation of the energy sector, in the context of climate change. Women must take the lead on the new markets and value chains that renewable energy presents, as well as lowering negative impacts on our environment.

The Eastern Seaboard Development is aimed at connecting developmental opportunities across a 600km coastline between KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape. The development spans 4 districts and 17 municipalities, really driving home the mandate of the District Development Model (DDM).

A development project of this magnitude carries catalytic and transformative projects and bears with it immense economic and social opportunities for the two provinces. However, at the heart of this is access, reliability and sustainability of energy. As part of our ongoing DDM work, we will continue to monitor and influence the inclusion of women to drive a competitive energy sector that will fuel economies at a local, national, regional and continental level.

Without transformation, there is no energy. Therefore, clear political leadership is required at every level of the value chain to enhance the participation of marginalised groups in the economy, improve livelihoods and enable them to contribute to sustainable development. The call for transformation must be supported by broad-based government support for gender main streaming as a necessity for driving gender-based political commitments.

We must work towards making Africa a global leader in trade. Through renewable and accessible energy, we can achieve it.

*Nkoana-Mashabane is the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.