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Energy revolution at the heart of South Africa's post-pandemic recovery

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For the first time in three years, delegates from around the world had the opportunity to meet face to face at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

While nations face unprecedented challenges with the war in Ukraine and the economic aftershocks of Covid-19, many countries - including South Africa - are emerging from the pandemic-induced slump with bright ambitions for the future.

"There's been a negative perception about South African growth policy, uncertainty and negative factors," Leila Fourie, CEO of Johannesburg Stock Exchange told Euronews. "What we are doing here is to try to put forward the story of what's happening on the ground, this great transformation, government policy around power, renewables focus, the growth trajectory both connected to financial markets as well as commodities and the renewed interest by foreign investors into South Africa. On a relative basis, South Africa is favourably positioned relative to its BRICS countries right now."

South Africa's Covid response

Like most countries, South Africa did not escape the pandemic, suffering significant loss of lives and livelihoods. However, the government responded strongly to the crisis at home and led an international alliance for vaccines for Africa. Mmamloko Kubayi, South Africa's Minister for Human Settlements said cooperation at a continental level was key: 

"As a country what we have been able to do is not only speak for ourselves in terms of access to the vaccine but we're the voice for the continent and also we're saying to the global community 'let's not hog the vaccines', but ensure vaccine equity, so all nations are able to access the vaccines so they operate safely operate and recover. It made us a leader in terms of speaking for the most vulnerable."

South Africa's economy started to recover in 2021, growing by 4.9 percent and Foreign Direct Investment into South Africa also jumped in 2021, to 36 billion euros. 

Decarbonising the economy

Launched at COP26, the Just Energy Transition Partnership aims to support South Africa to decarbonise its economy. Up to 8 billion euros will be available over the next three to five years - support that is essential to the country's continuing recovery.

"It is absolutely critical, our energy system literally is collapsing," said Mark Swilling, Chair of the Board of the Development Bank of Southern Africa. "Our economic recovery plan has got no chance if the energy system is not fixed. And so there's a whole bunch of regulatory changes that are required to make sure we address our challenges, but we need significant international and local investment in the energy transition. If we get this right, it's actually the future of South Africa"

As the world’s seventh-largest coal producer, South Africa has a large number of jobs in coal and the Development Bank wants to make sure workers in this sector don't pay the price for the transition, according to its CEO Patrick Dlamini: 

"As a country and with our international partners we need to start saying how do we transition away from it in a manner that is responsible and in a manner that does not damage our economy, in a manner that makes our economy even better because we are a nation with massive triple challenges - unemployment, inequality and poverty - so if we are a nation with so many challenges we then need to say how do we carefully migrate and transform our economy in a manner that creates more jobs, in a manner that creates a much more inclusive economy, and it is here that we will be able to access those international investors."

Positive thinking

It's not just about investing in big business, SMEs and social enterprises have a vital role to play in the continuing recovery, and the key to attracting investment, for social innovator Rene Parker, is thinking about business as a positive force:

"When we do business, we do good business - for social enterprises that's their philosophy and it should become the norm, even for big businesses, we should do good business, we should be conscious of the environment of the people around us, of our communities, it's something that should be innate in doing business."

As with all international conferences, the success of the meeting will only be seen in the years to come. South Africa's message, though, is that it is open and ready for investment in a post-pandemic world.

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