The Link Between Energy and Freedom

By Kaelelo Mashilo CA(SA)


As South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, I am reminded of the words of the late South African liberation movement leader and activist Ahmed Kathrada at an event where he was invited to speak to young South Africans and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. Central to Mr Kathrada’s message was a reminder that the freedom we now enjoy as South Africans did not fall from the sky. It was bravely fought for. Many died to secure it and we all have a patriotic and moral duty to protect and uphold it. His words have stuck with me since.


The Oxford South African Pocket Dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak or think freely”. I am of the view that we as South Africans still enjoy the powers and rights to speak and think freely. This is testament to the strength of our relatively young democracy.


I then question if South Africans truly and fully enjoy the right to act freely. As a professional in the energy sector the first thing that comes to mind is the dreaded loadshedding that we have all had to endure. Ask any South African and they can tell you how the persistent loadshedding has negatively impacted their lives and by extension their freedoms for the past 15 years. This may be a bit of a reach but please indulge me.


I don’t think there is a need for me to explain what loadshedding is but I can touch on what it means for us. Loadshedding means we are unable to watch our favourite television shows at the times we prefer.  Loadshedding means that parents are unable to cook food for their children at times that are convenient. It means that small business owners are unable to operate as and when they wish. Loadshedding means some South African workers are unable to earn an income to provide for their families. Loadshedding means that those outside of employment remain unemployed because without secure and reliable power, companies are not growing and are therefore unable to employ more people. Loadshedding has sometimes meant the loss of lives in our hospitals because of the failure of backup generators to kick in on time. The point I am making is that loadshedding’s impact on our lives varies from minor inconveniences to dire outcomes.


As we celebrate Freedom Day let us be reminded of how necessities such as power play an important role in enabling us to fully exercise and enjoy our freedoms.


The energy sector is faced with some serious challenges. Resolving our current power shortage is the most urgent. While we welcome the measures taken by the Government so far to resolve the power crisis such as the lifting up of the self-generation cap to 100MW without requiring a generation license as well as the introduction of the 6th bid window of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, we as members of the energy profession need to think deeply and broadly about what more should be done to lift the country out of this crisis.


Decreasing the country’s dependence on Eskom’s ailing generation fleet in favour of renewable energy sounds like a quick and easy solution to our power shortage that can result in significant investment in the country while also reducing our country’s carbon emissions, however, an abrupt transition to renewable energy without proper consideration as to whether it is just will lead us nowhere. We cannot leave entire towns and cities such as eMalahleni in abandon and hope to ensure social cohesion. Committing to a renewable energy strategy without ensuring the full and active participation of South Africans in the sector (read localisation) does not count for much if it won’t put the many unemployed South Africans into meaningful employment.


South Africa’s power crisis cannot be resolved without the active participation of members of the energy profession. We need to advocate for a national energy strategy that will lead to national prosperity while protecting and upholding our freedoms.


In closing, I remind you of the words of American writer William Faulkner: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”


Happy Freedom Day South Africa!