Recently, Afrobarometer, a non-profit organisation researching public opinion on the African continent, published a paper called “Despite growing evidence, climate change is still unknown to many South Africans”.
The paper reveals that in 2021, when the data were collected, only 49% of South Africa’s citizens heard about climate change. Although this was an increase of 7% compared to 2018 data, it is interesting that this figure still is so low.
It is common knowledge that the global South is severely affected by climate change and that the poorest in the world suffer most from it. According to Afrobarometer, the knowledge about climate change is broader among the higher educated and also amongst those who do not experience lived poverty and have access to information. This also is not a surprising reveal. However, it is surprising that amongst the 34 regularly observed African countries, South Africa, which is widely considered to be one of the better-developed countries on the continent, is in the lower third regarding knowledge about climate change.
Achievements in Clean Energy
Although the South African government seems to take action in tackling climate change with its Just Energy Transition, which is not only supposed to be a transition into cleaner energy but furthermore a transition to a reliable energy supply, not much seems to happen. According to a report from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), coal dominates energy generation in South Africa at about 80%. In comparison, renewable energy contributed 14%. While South Africa in 2022 had an electricity demand of 236.36 TWh, calculated based on the given data, and peak system demand was at 34.6 GW, the country since 2013 did not manage to implement more than 6,230 MW of cumulated solar and wind energy capacity. It is embarrassing, given that wind and sun are sufficiently available, which means using renewable energy could already be an implemented part of the solution for South Africa’s energy crisis.
Lack of Information
Returning to Afrobarometer’s paper regarding knowledge about climate change, the broad information of the citizens appears not to happen. Several reasons come to mind. The topics appear in the news, but South Africans have to deal with more pressing problems personally. One of the biggest is unemployment. Officially, in the 4th Quarter of 2022, 32.7% of South Africa’s workforce was unemployed, whereof 61% of youth between 15 and 24 years of age were unemployed. It is understandable that in this situation, the interest in climate change is not the biggest, and assumingly people choose bread on the table above news and science regarding family-economic decisions.
Furthermore, South Africans turn away from their politicians. Tinashe and Tshuma found in a study that there is no faith in politics and election processes among the youth between 15 and 35 years of age. On the other hand, this does not inevitably mean that they are not interested in politics at all. It is just necessary that government, politicians, and parties regain their trust. This means that they must finally do what they were elected to do: serve the people of South Africa.
What to Do?
Above all, governmental and political actions must be taken for South Africa to strive. Moreover, South Africa will not strive if e.g., the government still clings to coal-based energy generation. I fully understand the reason why they do. The mining industry is vast. Many jobs and, therefore, families depend on mining. Nevertheless, it is possible to prepare people for the – necessary – change. Although this should have been done many years before, there is still an opportunity. For example, solar and wind offer different kinds of work opportunities. However, these require another thing South Africa failed to implement equally, despite it being granted in the constitution: Education.
On the one hand, every South African has the right to basic education, but when it comes to the accompanying cost, many families struggle to afford it, which is still based on their background. Besides that, many schools do not have adequate funding to provide the granted equal educational rights. Without the proper education and actual equal opportunities in education for all people in South Africa, meaning that education must be accessible for everyone regardless of their background, renewable energies can be a dead end. It does not help that there are funds of nearly 500 million US-Dollars to support South Africa’s Just Energy Transition. South Africa has to be capable of managing the then newly installed technologies.
Not only against this background, but education is also necessary. Education, alongside all other positive effects like higher employment etc., will lead to the fact that more people in South Africa will not only know what climate change is and what its impacts will be. They will also understand what everyone can do daily to fight it.
Education also helps people sort all the information they get daily – wherever they may come from. It helps to build a clear understanding of what is happening in the world. What South Africa’s government needs to understand is that education also allows people to digest the information they get from the governmental and political sides. This could lead to a better understanding on the citizen’s side – hence to a higher involvement in building the country’s future.
Sure, an educated society can also threaten politics, but a sane political environment does not have to fear this. A sane political environment will work with it and strive for the best.
 Asafika Mpako and Preston Govindasamy, ‘Despite growing evidence, climate change is still unknown to many South Africans’ (2023) <https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/AD615-Climate-change-still-unknown-to-many-South-Africans-Afrobarometer-8mar22.pdf> accessed 8 May 2023.
 ibid 2.
 ibid 2.
Erika Strazzante, Stéphanie Rycken and Vanessa Winkler, ‘Global North and Global South: How Climate Change Uncovers Global Inequalities – Generation Climate Europe’ (2022) <https://gceurope.org/global-north-and-global-south-how-climate-change-uncovers-global-inequalities/> accessed 31 May 2023.
 Mpako and Govindasamy (n 2) 4.
 Warrick Pierce and Monique Le Roux, ‘Statistics of utility-scale power generation in South Africa 2022’ (2023) 2 <https://www.csir.co.za/sites/default/files/Documents/Statistics%20of%20power%20in%20SA%202022-CSIR-%5BFINAL%5D.pdf> accessed 8 May 2023.
 ibid 3.
 ibid 10.
 Department of Statistics South Africa, ‘Statistical Release P0211, Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Quarter 4: 2022’ (2023) 9 <https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0211/P02114thQuarter2022.pdf> accessed 19 April 2023.
 ibid 26.
 Gilbert Tinashe and Darlington Tshuma, ‘Political Fatalism and Youth Apathy in South Africa: an analysis of the 2019 general election’  Conflict Trends 20-29 29 <https://www.accord.org.za/publication/conflict-trends-2019-3/> accessed 8 May 2023.
 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, Act 108 of 1996 (Republic of South Africa) sec. 29.
 Amnesty International, ‘Broken And Unequal: The State Of Education In South Africa’ (2020) 7 <https://amnesty.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FINALBrokenAndUnequal_FULLREPORTredu_compressed.pdf> accessed 20 January 2023.
 ibid 11.
 Worldbank, ‘The World Bank in South Africa’ (2023) <https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southafrica/overview#2> accessed 8 May 2023.