Western Progressivism: an impediment in the war on load shedding

Sindisiwe Mchunu works by candlelight during power cuts. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Sindisiwe Mchunu works by candlelight during power cuts. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Published Jul 10, 2023


By Andrew Biemer

South Africa's battle with load shedding has been a persistent challenge, hindering economic growth, disrupting daily life, and exacerbating social inequalities.

While international assistance is often well-intentioned, it is crucial to examine how Western paternalism inadvertently impedes South Africa's ability to effectively address this issue.

Even the most well-intentioned, but misguided policies and approaches can hinder local innovation, self-reliance, and sustainable solutions.

Load shedding requires no introduction. The deliberate and controlled interruption of electricity supply to prevent the collapse of the national power grid has catapulted the term into common nomenclature.

South Africa has been grappling with this issue for years, primarily due to the strain on its energy infrastructure and the challenge of meeting increasing electricity demands. Addressing load shedding requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses infrastructure development, diversified energy sources, and sustainable solutions tailored to the unique needs and realities of the country.

Western progressivism, with its emphasis on social justice, environmental stewardship, and sustainable energy solutions, can inadvertently hinder South Africa's efforts to combat load shedding.

While renewable energy is crucial for a sustainable future — and even preferential in western nations where energy security is already assured — the imposition of strict emissions standards and environmental regulations can limit South Africa's access to affordable and reliable energy sources.

These restrictions can perpetuate load shedding rather than alleviate it, especially when local infrastructure and alternative energy sources are not yet sufficiently developed.

Moreover, an overly bureaucratic approach associated with Western progressivism can stifle local innovation and entrepreneurship. The complex web of regulations, permits, and compliance standards creates barriers for South African businesses and discourages investment in the energy sector.

This hinders the country's ability to develop its energy infrastructure and explore diverse energy solutions that could alleviate load shedding more effectively.

Paternalistic assistance from Western nations can unintentionally undermine South Africa's self-reliance and hinder its progress in addressing load shedding.

While foreign aid may offer temporary relief, it can create a cycle of dependency rather than empowering local communities to find sustainable solutions. And when solutions are imposed from the outside without considering local contexts and expertise, they may lack effectiveness and long-term viability.

Westerners, I will attest, are superlative at ignoring local context.

The paternalistic approach often overlooks the knowledge and capabilities of South African professionals and institutions, reinforcing the perception that they are incapable of solving their own problems. This undermines the country's confidence and perpetuates a reliance on external assistance, rather than fostering a sense of ownership and accountability for tackling load shedding.

Addressing load shedding in South Africa requires a comprehensive and context-specific approach that respects the agency and capabilities of the nation. While Western progressivism and paternalistic assistance may be well-intentioned, they must be accompanied by an understanding of local realities and a commitment to fostering self-reliance.

By empowering South Africa and supporting local innovation, we can work together towards sustainable solutions for the country's energy challenges.

* Andrew Biemer is a utility regulator from the United States with 20 years of experience in public, governmental and civil affairs. He is a frequent panellist and moderator at energy conferences in North America and Africa.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.