We need a ‘Rooftop Revolution’ – Kumi Naidoo

By Kumi Naidoo

This Op-Ed was written for the Cape Argus, which they published on 1 JuneRooftop revolution

South Africa’s nuclear build plan is deeply concerning. It does not make sense in any way, whether from a fiscal policy perspective, or as an energy solution.

Instead, it is a frustrating distraction from the obvious solution to our energy problems: renewable energy in the form of solar and wind power. South Africa, with ample sun and wind – far more than Germany, a strong proponent of renewable energy – has the potential to be a world leader in this field. Our government’s nuclear adventure is wasting time and opportunity, by deterring foreign investment in renewable energy and expending funds that could be put to much better use. We need to train our youth in renewables, not the white elephant of nuclear power generation.

The big argument used for nuclear is that it will provide ‘baseload’. This is a fallacious argument. We need to move away from the idea that big electricity frameworks are good electricity frameworks; instead, we need to move towards decentralised, smaller frameworks which would serve the whole population, including the rural energy poor and marginalised. Also, too much electricity is lost in the transmission process on its way to businesses and homes. We need to be addressing these inefficiencies if we want to solve our energy crisis.

Many people in this country are still waiting for electricity, more than twenty years after democracy, and it would be deeply unjust if we were to ask them to stay in energy poverty any longer. Yet a nuclear build takes, in the most generously optimistic estimation, 10 years before it is completed and online, and over-runs are common. Renewable energy projects have proven themselves to be able to come online within 2-3 years and have stayed within budget, providing sustainable jobs and energy that doesn’t carry the substantial risks of nuclear, including the legacy for future generations – our children’s children – of radioactive waste.

What we need instead is a rooftop revolution. If all citizens, schools, religious organisations and institutions used their roofs to generate electricity through solar panels, we could create energy independence, and also the opportunity for generating income through selling back the surplus energy produced. This kind of thinking will incentivise people to use energy more efficiently. Eskom would not have to waste any more money on ads asking people to conserve energy, as it would happen naturally.

There are many more reasons why I oppose nuclear, and paramount amongst these is the likelihood of corruption on an enormous scale. Then there is the opportunity for corruption and patronage throughout the whole value chain – from mining of uranium in the Karoo, devastating to health and our beautiful environment, to the decommissioning and waste disposal. The lack of transparency and complete secrecy in the government’s nuclear dealings is of considerable concern. We as a public have a right to know what is going on, particularly considering the price tag of more than R1 trillion carried by nuclear.

To this end, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife Africa JHB have taken the government to court to challenge the legality of the nuclear procurement process. I strongly support them and have recently become, within my voluntary capacity as a citizen, an ambassador for SAFCEI regarding their anti-nuclear campaign.

Already as a young activist during Apartheid I was deeply inspired by the role that religious leaders and institutions played in ensuring a just transition towards democracy. This, and the fact that SAFCEI was so fast off the starting block when it came to the issue of nuclear, inspired me to join the Institute in ensuring that there is no nuclear in South Africa’s future.

What we need now is for the people of South Africa to add their voice to ours. It is time for them to step up and say: “My voice matters, this is about me, this is about my children and my children’s children”. We must act with urgency to get the nuclear deal off the table and increase the impetus to invest in a sustainable future for our children.


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