South Africa’s women need the energy transition to work for them

(China Dialogue, 24 Jan 2023) Sidelined in the fossil fuel era, women could have a better future if the transition is done right.

On a cloudy day on the streets of Komati, a group of men are loitering in blue overalls.

“We can’t get jobs if the power station closes”, a middle-aged one says.

“We can’t do solar, we don’t have the skills. I am a boilermaker by trade,” the man continues. “People will suffer here if we don’t work. They will protest because they need to get jobs. We are already planning one tomorrow.”

At the end of October, the Komati coal power plant, in eastern South Africa’s coal-rich Mpumalanga province, shut down. In existence since 1961, Komati was the first coal plant to be closed under the country’s just transition plans. It will be repurposed with solar and gas power generation and battery storage.

The just transition conversation is dominated by concerns about how changes to industry will affect male employment. Yet women are affected too, with growing evidence that in coal communities they will be even more vulnerable to the changes wrought by South Africa’s energy transition. With their male partners out of work, they may struggle to survive since they are already pushed to the margins of the economy, often working in the informal sector.

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China Dialogue, 24 Jan 2023: South Africa’s women need the energy transition to work for them