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Ramaphosa touts ‘thousands’ of renewable energy jobs

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 09 Feb 2024
President Cyril Ramaphosa last night delivered the last SONA under the sixth administration. [Photograph by Presidency]
President Cyril Ramaphosa last night delivered the last SONA under the sixth administration. [Photograph by Presidency]

South Africa’s abundance of solar, wind and mineral resources bodes well for job creation in the renewables energy sector, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.

As a result, government plans to “create thousands of jobs in renewable energy, green hydrogen, green steel, electric vehicles and other green products”.

Ramaphosa last night delivered his seventh State of the Nation Address (SONA) as president of the Republic – the last one under the sixth administration.

The annul address sets out government’s key policy objectives and deliverables for the year ahead, and marked 30 years of the democratic dispensation.

Remarking on efforts to address the jobs crisis and energy supply woes, Ramaphosa noted that the tabled the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill aims to support the restructuring of Eskom and establish a competitive electricity market.

“As we undertake these reforms, we are positioning our economy for future growth in a world shaped by climate change and a revolution in green technologies.

“In the last three years, our country has seen an increase in extreme weather events, often with disastrous consequences. This is why we are implementing a just energy transition, not only to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change, but to create growth and jobs for our own people.

“We will undertake this transition at a pace, scale and cost that our country can afford and in a manner that ensures energy security. The Northern Cape, with its optimal solar conditions, has already attracted billions of rands in investment.

“We are going to set up a Special Economic Zone in the Boegoebaai port to drive investment in green energy. There is a great deal of interest from the private sector to participate in the boom that will be generated green hydrogen energy projects.”

As embattled power utility Eskom continues to implement varying stages of load-shedding, organisations have had to contend with the impact of rolling power outages on business continuity.

There were not many tangibles - vague references to employment opportunities, but there is a big difference between job opportunities and actual jobs.

Nkosinathi Mahlangu, youth employment portfolio head at Momentum Metropolitan

Amid the ongoing energy crisis, there’s been impetus from industry and government to diversify the energy supply, with renewable energy sources the favoured alternatives.

Last year, the CEO of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association said the solar PV market is a gigawatt-scale market, with the capacity expected to triple.

According to the president, since reviving the renewable energy programme, more than 2 500MW of solar and wind power have been connected to the grid, with three times this amount already in procurement or construction.

“Through tax incentives and financial support, we have more than doubled the amount of rooftop solar capacity installed across the country in just the past year. We have implemented sweeping regulatory reforms to enable private investment in electricity generation, with more than 120 new private energy projects now in development.

“Through all of these actions, we are confident that the worst is behind us and the end of load-shedding is finally within reach.

“To ensure that we never face a similar crisis ever again, we are reforming our energy system to make it more competitive, sustainable and reliable into the future. We are going to build more than 14 000km of new transmission lines to accommodate renewable energy over the coming years.”

Jobs for youth

Unemployment data released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in November showed the country’s official unemployment rate was 31.9% in the third quarter of 2023.

There were about 10.2 million young people aged 15–24 years in Q3: 2023, of which 32.7% were not in employment, education or training, according to Stats SA findings.

To address the scourge of unemployment, particularly among the country’s youth, government has prioritised the Presidential Employment Stimulus programmes to create employment opportunities, boost digital skills and digital capacity.

The president said yesterday the stimulus programme has allowed placement of more than 1 million school assistants in 23 000 schools, providing valuable work experience.

He added that through the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, was established as a zero-rated platform for unemployed young people to access opportunities for learning and earning.

“Over 4.3 million young people are now engaged on the network and 1.6 million have so far secured opportunities,” he stated.

However, Nkosinathi Mahlangu, youth employment portfolio head at Momentum Metropolitan, believes the SONA 2024 fell short in terms of addressing youth employment initiatives and progress.

“The president looked deeply at the rear view mirror by reflecting on the last 30 years, and while he acknowledged a few gaps (such as the fact that our youth unemployment remains the highest it's ever been), there was little emphasis on how to overcome these gaps.

“There were not many tangibles - vague references to employment opportunities, but there is a big difference between job opportunities and actual jobs. I would have liked him to give indication of whether these job [opportunities] equated to permanent jobs, in which sectors, provinces and even gender split (knowing that women are historically more disadvantaged than men). He also did not clarify on what role the private sector could play and what role the government could play going forward.

“It's important to be optimistic, but we also need to be realistic. Youth unemployment remains a massive challenge. The president says the youth inspire our country - but the question is, does our country inspire the youth,” says Mahlangu.