Rethinking the (Un)just Transition: A Review of the Impact of Neoliberal Approaches to Energy Governance in South Africa




Just Energy Transition, neoliberalism, energy sovereignty, South Africa, loadshedding


South Africa has demonstrated a firm commitment to a just transition from coal to renewable energy sources by outlining a roadmap for the decommissioning of its coal-fired power stations and procuring clean energy. Ideally, this is a laudable response to climate change and a pathway to a sustainable future. However, the just transition is not inherently just because of the underlying neoliberal policies that underpin it, and which are, to a large degree, not in South Africa’s best interests. The purported just transition has unintended results, such as undermining South Africa’s energy sovereignty, perpetuating existing global power imbalances, aggravating energy poverty, and leading to many economic and social injustices. This paper uses doctrinal legal research to explore the influence of neoliberal policies in South Africa’s just transition towards renewable energy. It argues that a truly Just Energy Transition must be grounded in South Africa’s best interests and should not sacrifice the country’s energy sovereignty for a perceived greater good at a time when giant economies in the West, which are responsible for the bulk of activities which contribute to climate change, are revamping their coal-fired power stations and buying South Africa’s coal for their own heating, lighting, and industry. To achieve this, the paper examines the duplicity arising from what may be perceived as an embrace of neoliberal policies in fighting climate change by phasing out existing energy sources at a time when economic activity in the country is retreating due to the lack of a consistent and reliable energy supply. As such, the paper makes a case for an energy-sovereign South Africa that prioritises domestic control over energy resources, promotes renewable energy deployment that is socially just and equitable, and empowers communities to shape their energy futures. It argues that for South Africa to attain energy sovereignty, it must look into its own resources and revisit the neoliberal aspects of its law and policy that compromise its ability to fight energy poverty.


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How to Cite

Lekunze, Angwe Rachel. “Rethinking the (Un)just Transition: A Review of the Impact of Neoliberal Approaches to Energy Governance in South Africa”. Journal of Law, Society and Development, 18 pages.



Received 2023-11-13
Accepted 2023-12-18
Published 2024-03-14