2021 will likely be remembered for two clear markers: it was the year the energy crisis reached its peak, and the year we began to win against the pandemic.
As the country looks forward to the new year, both of these markers will stand the country in good stead, says Busi Mavuso, chief executive of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).
Writing in her weekly open letter, Mavuso said that 2021 has been the worst year on record in terms of energy availability.
“By November we had faced over 1,000 hours of load shedding for the first time since the crisis began. But it was also the year in which the first decisive step was taken to end the crisis with the amendment of schedule 2 of the Electricity Supply Act to allow companies to create electricity-generating facilities of up to 100MW without a licence.
“We should start seeing new production going live within the next 12 to 18 months, signalling a fundamental shift in how electricity is produced to a greener, lower cost and more reliable future.”
Add in the future rounds of the independent power producers’ renewable energy programme and the country is diversifying its power sources substantially, which is key to long-term supply stability, she said.
2021 is also the year that the country took a decisive step against the Covid-19 pandemic with the rollout of its vaccine programme, said Mavuso.
While she noted that South Africa will miss its vaccine target of 70% by the end of the year, Mavuso said that the country’s vaccine rollout is now in full effect.
“After a late start, the government did well to secure a good pipeline of vaccine supplies and set up a wide distribution programme in partnership with the private sector. But we have faced real challenges in reaching far more of the population. The reasons are complex including logistics, economics and attitudes.
“Too many of our population live precarious lives in which every hour of every day is a battle and taking time out for vaccines is not feasible.”
Mavuso added that vaccine mandates from employers are becoming more frequent and right now look to be the best tool to drive greater uptake.
But she cautioned that the country also needs more creative interventions to get vaccines closer to people so the cost to them of vaccinating is minimised and add further incentives such as vouchers.
Despite the more positive outlook for energy and health in 2022, Mavuso said the same cannot yet be said held for jobs and the economy.
“I hope we may also one day be able to say that 2021 was the worst ever for employment. But I fear we are not doing enough to turn the trajectory on the shocking unemployment figures reported for the third quarter, showing almost half of the labour force was out of work on the expanded definition,” Mavuso said.
“The economic growth figures told the story behind the employment decline, with the economy shrinking 1.5% between the second and third quarters.”
Mavuso said the country’s unemployment crisis needs a new maturity that lifts taboos about revisiting labour laws.
“We must be serious about the potential for reforms to make the labour market work better and deliver greater employment. We must confront the negative incentives that employers face in expanding employment. ”
“We must also fix the structure of bargaining processes, including the compulsory extension of agreements to employers who haven’t even participated in negotiations,” she said.