The implication of South Africa’s 2024 election on its energy transition plan

South Africa’s 2024 election involves 27 million voters and 70 parties. Energy transition plans vary among candidates, revealing challenges and differing approaches to climate action and renewable energy.

(Photo by Jacques Nel on Unsplash)

27 million registered voters in South Africa will go to the polls on 29 May to elect 400 parliamentary members in the national and provincial elections. After the vote, the parliamentary members will elect the new president.

There are 70 political parties and 11 independent candidates contesting the national and provincial elections. The national ballot will have 52 parties listed.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC), led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is competing against opposition parties including the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), led by John Steenhuisen, and the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF), led by Julius Malema. There are also dozens of smaller parties.

South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy in nominal terms, with an estimated GDP of nearly $400 billion, according to Visual Capitalist data. The mining industry is a major contributor to the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 60% of total exports in the first half of 2023.

In 2021, the country emitted 436 million tonnes of C0₂, which made it the 14th-largest emitter of CO₂ worldwide in 2021. Its CO₂ emissions are principally due to a heavy reliance on coal.

Under the Paris Climate Accords in 2016, the country pledged to reduce emissions to between 350 and 420 million tonnes by 2030. Power makes up half of its emissions, and to achieve reduction, South Africa planned to decommission eight coal-fired power plants, six by 2030 and the remaining ones by 2034, according to Reuters.

However, a report noted that the country will miss its binding 2030 carbon emissions targets under the Paris climate agreement for planning to run eight coal-fired power plants for longer than planned.

In November 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration presented a Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP), which details financing needs of $98 billion over the next five years for catalysing a sustained just energy transition.

This investment plan is premised on South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) 2030, with its focus on tackling the country’s systemic challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. It also supports a transition away from coal and includes support for impacted coal workers, with investments also in new energy vehicles (primarily battery electric vehicles) and green hydrogen.

The implementation plan for the Just Energy Transition was approved by the cabinet last November. If carefully implemented, a report noted that the energy transition is an opportunity for the country to drive industrial development, innovation and economic diversification.

As the election draws closer, we look into how energy issues have been dealt with in the election campaign, what the plans of the various parties are, whether a coal phase-out is being discussed and whether nuclear energy is still being pursued as an option.

ANC’s failed government policy has led to South Africa’s energy crisis

Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC is the incumbent president of South Africa. He has been in power for 10 years and he is seeking re-election. It was his administration that launched JET IP.

In the party’s 54-page manifesto, the government promised to build industries to achieve an inclusive economy and use the just transition to create new jobs and increase the country’s exports.

The manifesto states that: ‘This involves targeted strategies to revitalise and diversify the manufacturing sector, foster a more inclusive and robust national and African market, skill and reskill workers and meet the new global challenge of climate change. A just transition to a cleaner, greener future can lead to new jobs and secure the competitiveness of our exports.’

President Ramaphosa wants to further use science and innovation for development to support innovation in green technologies, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and decarbonisation programmes.

In an interview with, Dr Alex Leferna, General Secretary of Climate Justice Coalition and Post Doctoral Research Fellow at Nelson Mandela University, said many years of the ANC’s failed government policies has kept South Africa in dire electricity crisis. He said the government has failed to maintain and invest in solving the energy crisis and invest in new energy generation, particularly solar, which is the fastest, greenest and most affordable renewable energy.

In terms of whether a coal phase out is feasible in South Africa, he said the ANC government is trying to delay the phase out of coal by an additional decade to properly ramp up  of gas power, and also to push for nuclear power, even though the evidence suggests that nuclear is much more expensive than renewables and also takes a lot longer to build.

According to Dr Leferna: ‘So, the coal phase out is very much feasible to South Africa and the renewable future is the most prosperous in South Africa but the government is taking us in a different direction under the leadership of the ANC. And that’s despite the fact that renewable energy would benefit South Africa, even if we took climate change out of the picture.’

Malik Dasoo, an organiser with Extinction Rebellion Gauteng and a researcher interviewed by, also noted that the ANC-led government talks left and walks right. He said two years after signing just energy transition policies, the government had been unable to implement it.

‘On a public platform, South Africa seems to be very committed to just energy transition. But in reality, from internal policies, they have fallen way behind where they should be.’ he added.

Opposition party manifestos on energy transition

The Democratic Alliance party in its manifesto condemned the ANC ruling party for the failed government intervention to ensure a reliable power supply due to insistence on utilizing an outdated model of state-led power generation.

A DA government-proposed solution would be to improve the reliability of power supply by unbundling and restructuring Eskom, the largest producer of electricity in South Africa, to establish an open electricity market.

At the same time, a DA-led government would move away from reliance on Eskom and increase the usage of renewable energy sources.

This would be achieved by building local manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technologies, without resorting to protectionist trade practices, and incentivising the training and development of skills capacity in the renewable energy sector.

The DA manifesto states that: ‘Reducing high tariffs on imports of renewable energy technologies (such as PV panels and other goods) to ensure that these technologies are more affordable and accessible. Committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions to reduce the impact of energy generation on the climate. We will achieve this by diversifying the energy mix.’

The Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters party in its manifesto pledged to stop load shedding in South Africa’s energy and electricity supply. If elected, the leftist party maintained its commitment to decarbonizing the electricity sector, advancing at a pace, scale and cost that is feasible and beneficial for South Africa.

An EEF-led government would invest in repairing the existing fleet of power generation and adopt clean coal technologies to enhance the energy availability factor of the country.

Concurrently, the party wants to establish a state-owned mining company to manage coal mines owned by Eskom, to ensure a quality coal supply at affordable prices.

According to the EEF: ‘This company will also export surplus coal, prioritizing African countries to support their electrification and industrialization. The EFF government will leverage 200 years of coal reserves, implementing carbon-capturing technology, and nuclear energy as the dependable energy for baseload to ensure security of energy supply.’

Conclusively, Malik Dasoo said there’s not a single political party that recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis in South Africa in their manifestos. This, he said, is most prominently evident by how little attention is given to climate change, even if it’s being mentioned in their manifestos.

‘But it also revealed the limited thinking that paints the climate crisis as just electricity problem. It’s a significant part but it’s one part and it’s not necessarily the most urgent. For me, the most urgent is the food security crisis that’s going to come about as a result of the impacts of climate change. Just to set the scene, there’s not a single politician which understands it properly and this makes them fail in their ability to recognize the urgency and propose solutions that address climate change,’ he concluded.


The views and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.


Samuel Ajala is a data and development journalist covering climate change, energy transition, and WASH in Nigeria. In March 2022, he was selected as the only Nigerian journalist to attend Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) Media Fellowship in Germany. He is passionate about telling stories of underserved communities and people in Nigeria.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *