Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has labelled the Just Energy Transition (JET) a foreign concept created by developed nations that do not apply to South Africa.
Mantashe addressed the Black Business Council last week, where he sharply criticised the pace at which South Africa is transitioning to renewable energy.
The minister urged South Africa to exercise energy sovereignty and not be a conduit for ideas from the developed world.
“We cannot work on the basis of a program developed in the Developed North,” said Mantashe, “We are not the same. We pretend to be a developed economy, but we are not. We are a developing economy in a poor continent.”
The country must transition on its own terms and not according to a foreign programme.
“The world wants us to be encircled because then you do not think. You are a conveyor belt for other people’s ideas,” the minister said about the JET programme.
“That is what developed economies want. For us to just sign agreements.”
Mantashe refused to attend a top-level meeting held by President Cyril Ramaphosa with European leaders to sign a green energy memorandum of understanding (MOU).
He did not sign the $1 billion agreement with the Netherlands and Denmark because it was allegedly drafted without his input.
He was in Boksburg at a Cosatu event instead. International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor signed the MOU in his place.
At a press conference, Mantashe said that his refusal to attend and sign the memorandum had “nothing to do with disagreement or defiance” towards the president.
“It does not mean that I do not believe in renewables,” Mantashe said. “There is one reason: I do not sign an MOU that I have not read. If I am not given that MOU to read, then I will not sign it.”
South Africa must exploit oil and gas
The minister urged the business leaders in attendance to drive investment into tapping South Africa’s gas and oil reserves.
He also pushed them to develop an upstream petroleum industry to capitalise on oil and gas discoveries by South Africa’s neighbours, such as Mozambique and Namibia.
“If we were to exploit gas and oil, we will turn the economy around, and we will grow more quickly”, Mantashe said.
However, “every time we touch oil and gas, we end up in court in South Africa. Every time. We touch it, we go to court.”
The government will fight these court cases to the end, according to Mantashe, as they cannot allow environmentalists to veto development.
Instead of focusing on decarbonisation, South Africa should focus on eradicating energy poverty first.
Mantashe said that this does not mean the country is no longer committed to transitioning to a low-carbon economy, just that it should exercise energy sovereignty and make its own decisions.
“I am not discouraging anybody. People must invest in renewables” complemented by baseload energy supply from coal, oil and natural gas.