Mamphela Ramphele

The missing link in the inspiring SONA

2019-02-12 08:48


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Our existing socio-economic development model has proven not equal to the task of undoing the inherited and growing inequities of our colour coded society. The solution lies elsewhere, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Most South Africans have been inspired by 2019's thoughtful State of the Nation Address (SONA). It allayed anxieties about President Cyril Ramaphosa's commitment to bold action on pressing national issues. He inspired us to be proud again as a young democracy.

The missing link in the SONA is recognition of the catastrophic impact of climate change that is demanding urgent and bold changes to secure livelihoods and sustain life on our planet as we know it today.    

READ: How long will we eat the future of our children?

The passing comments President Ramaphosa made to "the devastating effects of global warming," are an indicator that leaders of our country have yet to recognise the enormity of our vulnerability as a country, a region and continent to catastrophic climate changes.  

To add to the cruel irony of our situation, his announcement of the very large oil and gas deposits off our shores by the French oil company Total may not prove to be the game changers our president hailed.  

Fossil fuels are a sunset industry. Many countries are shying away from it; others are transferring the risks to poorer regions eager for the jobs promised. As signatories to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement we are bound to halve our carbon footprint by 2030, and take it down to zero by 2050.  

Carbon transition brings huge opportunity

The good news is that the demands of the Intergovernmental Paris Climate Agreement on decarbonisation bear within them huge opportunities for transforming our socio-economic development system into a more equitable, inclusive and one that promotes sustainable prosperity for all.  

Our existing socio-economic development model has proven not equal to the task of undoing the inherited and growing inequities of our colour coded society. The rich are growing richer, and the poor poorer. We have the opportunity to transform our socio-economic system by transforming our society into one characterised by values of ubuntu that enable humans to live in harmony with one another and with nature. 

The Climate Emergency Plan the world needs to embrace requires government, the private sector, civil society and individual citizens to agree on turning the page on failed development models and using the lessons of those failures to reframe pathways to a future we can secure for those yet to be born.  

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Current strategies in our country to create and sustain jobs for the millions of unemployed young people are unlikely to yield the desired outcomes. We need to use the mandated transition to a low carbon footprint that produces higher wellbeing for all to redesign and restructure our society. Instituting governance by the people for the people would promote active citizenship and reduce inefficiencies and unaccountability in public service.  We need to design human settlements in both urban and rural areas that are compact using African architectural designs that have the potential to create millions of jobs and a sense of pride as people become more self-reliant.  

Compact cities and towns need to replace the urban sprawls and rural isolation resulting in minimisation of fossil fuel driven transport systems, and enhancing social cohesion.

Infrastructure development for 21st century urban and rural developments would boost employment, creativity, arts and culture and overall higher quality of life. Redesigning agriculture and agribusiness for resilience to water scarcity would see us enhancing food security and higher productivity of land in strategic areas of our country. Management of our scarce water resources need to become a much higher priority.

Mining must be part of solution

The mining industry needs to be radically reimagined. It has to become part of the solution in reducing and mitigating climate change risks. The benefits of mining need to be shared prosperity especially for local communities who currently bear most of the risks of resultant environmental damage.  

We have not been firm enough in enforcing legislated rehabilitation of the damage mines do to our environment and the wellbeing of poor communities nearby. Flying over the gold and platinum belts one is struck by the gaping wounds in our landscapes.

Instituting comprehensive, high quality education for 21st century citizens demands infrastructure to support teaching and learning platforms that would not only restore the dignity of learners, teachers and parents, but would also provide sustainable jobs in the building and maintenance industries.  

Imagine the hive of activity in developing and utilising hard and software that promotes multi-disciplinary and multilingual institutions to develop the talents of every child and young person!    

Decarbonisation is not just a burden to be born with fortitude. It is an opportunity for us to mine our heritage of ancient African wisdom in values systems that enabled humanity to evolve in harmony with nature, but also to develop the science and technology that made us prosperous.  

Sustained jobs to be created

Ethiopia is reviving carbon dependent farming led by women that reduces dependence on harmful fertilisers that are polluting our rivers and oceans. We too can revive Mpumalanga into a food basket of the region by migrating from coal mining to reforestation and carbon-based agriculture. Jobs would not only be created, but be sustained. 

Mr President, we have experts in our country's universities and science and technology system, as well as in other regions of our continent, who can work with your government to guide us through a just transition from fossil fuel dependency to inclusive prosperity. Returning to the wisdom of our ancestors who lived in harmony with nature would be the real game changer.  

The missing link in the 2019 SONA is the thread that can tie together a just transition to a prosperous democracy for all who live in this beautiful country. 

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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Read more on:    climate change  |  sona 2019  |  carbon footprint

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