Max du Preez

Vision, imagination, boldness

2009-12-09 08:00

Vision. Imagination. Boldness. That's what would get South Africa among the winning nations instead of just plodding along.

It was visionary, bold and imaginative leadership that brought us the political settlement of 1994 which not only avoided a civil war, but made us the darling of - and a good example to - the whole world.

Our nation is represented at this week's Copenhagen summit on climate change. But again we're just making up the numbers; we're just another "developing country" listening to the real polluters' double talk.

We have a unique opportunity right now to do something real about two of our big problems, an opportunity that will not easily present itself again.

Eskom has just told us they have to more than double the price of electricity in the short term to finance several new coal-fired and at least one nuclear power stations.

This will severely undermine the chances of economic growth, but not having enough electricity will even be worse. And it will mean we can't possibly keep our promise of a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

The visionary, bold solution?

Instead of making small talk about reduced emissions at Copenhagen, President Jacob Zuma should get up and declare to all heads of state that South Africa would become the first country in the world to put a moratorium on all future coal-fired and nuclear power stations.

As from today South Africa will make solar-powered water heaters compulsory in all new buildings, residential and commercial, state and privately owned, he should tell them.

This project will be combined with other drastic but realistic programmes aimed at bringing the demand for electricity in line with supply for at least another three years or so.

And then Zuma should tell the world that South Africa will spend the billions now earmarked for coal-fired and nuclear power stations, including the pebble-bed modular reactors that have been sucking up so much of our money, on massive wind farms and other sources of renewable energy.

The state-owned armaments company, Denel, will be redirected to become the prime research and manufacturing facility of all forms of renewable energy.

And, Zuma should tell the rich so-called First World countries, you should help us finance this exciting venture which we will help you spread all over the African continent.

I am convinced such an ambitious, bold plan will fire up the imagination of all nations and that there will be a massive international groundswell of goodwill towards South Africa.

Such a visionary act will most likely inspire other nations into action, and we know the planet needs that desperately.

It will also be a severe blow to the powerful coal and nuclear lobbies who would want us all to believe that renewable energy sources are unreliable and expensive.

They certainly are not. I have done my homework on this for several years now.
It is not only a grand idea; it makes a lot of practical sense also.

A wind farm can be operational in less than three years. Smaller, localised solar solutions can be up and running within a few months.

This opportunity will be lost once we have started to commission new coal-powered and nuclear fire stations.

The minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel was right when he said yesterday after a national stakeholder advisory council meeting on electricity, South Africans needed to look 20 years into the future. "We must look at the energy choices going forward... to the horizon."

Ke nako. Sekunjalo.  Die tyd is reg. The time for this is now.

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