By Staff Reporters

While energy experts are sceptical about the president’s plans, the opposition is fiercely against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national state of disaster that the matter is already headed to the courts.
During his 7th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on February 9, Ramaphosa announced that “the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has just gazetted the Declaration of the State of Disaster, which will begin with immediate effect.”

He said the state of disaster will enable government to provide practical measures that are needed to support businesses in food production, storage and retail supply chain, including the rollout of generators, solar panels and uninterrupted power supply. He also announced that he will be appointing a new Minister of Electricity who will be placed in the presidency.
But the opposition wouldn’t hear of it.

“The National State of Disaster under the guise of dealing with the load shedding crisis will similarly empower the ANC to abuse procurement processes and issue nonsensical regulations that have nothing to do with the electricity crisis. The DA will not sit back and allow the ANC to abuse the electricity disaster it created to loot and further abuse the people of South Africa,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a statement.

The official opposition said the possible declaration of the Electricity State of Disaster had raised concern across business and civil society, given the extent of tender and procurement corruption in the two-year Covid-19 State of Disaster and lockdown.  The GOOD opposition party also called on the president to share his plan to “fix” troubled power utility Eskom and introduce the affordable implementation of a just energy transition to solar. GOOD said South Africa had endured 193 000 minutes of load-shedding last year as Eskom strived to avoid a total collapse of the national grid due to power generation failing to meet demand. The Mail & Guardian reported that the Solidary Trade Union were already opposed to the idea before the SONA.

“Questions were raised over what the State of Disaster would contribute towards resolving South Africa’s energy crisis, given the availability of existing legislative routes for emergency funding and procurement regulatory relief.
“The trade union sent Ramaphosa a “cautionary note” that it would litigate if he announced a state of disaster in response to the electricity crunch, either during the address or at any other occasion,” the M&G reported. It quoted Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute saying “the state of disaster was meant for a disaster, not for poor governance.”
Meanwhile, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), accused the government of using disaster emergency to create conditions for privatising the country’s energy.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said the ongoing rolling power cuts were a crisis, which had been deliberately imposed by Ramaphosa’s leadership in order to connect more Independent Power Producers into the grid for the sole intention of privatising energy provision.

Numsa is part of several organisations which have filed urgent court papers at the North Gauteng High Court to stop the rolling blackouts due to their detrimental impact on health, the economy and jobs.
The multi-party court action includes the UDM, BuildOneSA, the Health and Allied Indaba Trade Union, the Soweto Action Committee, IFP, ActionSA, and SA Federation of Trade Unions, small businesses, political parties and other trade unions. The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (Haitu) joined Numsa in demanding that government compensate families for unnecessary deaths caused by load shedding.

Energy expert Chris Yelland said the president’s announcement of the State of Disaster and the creation of the Ministry of Electricity would create confusion in an already intricate operation.
“So, we now have five main ministries and ministers involved with electricity governance in South Africa, with ministers that are often at odds with each other in this regard, and where it is often clear that they do not share a common vision,” he told The Telegram. He pointed out turf battles between the Minster of Minerals Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the new ministry saying, “DMRE has its minister – responsible for energy and electricity policy, planning and regulation, coal, oil, gas and liquid fuel supply, and security of electricity supply.”

He said the new ministry was also headed for a head budding with the Department of Public Enterprise (DPE) and its minister. “This department and its minister are responsible for oversight over Eskom as shareholder representative, as well as structural reform, restructuring, unbundling, establishing the independent National Transmission Company of SA, and the Just Energy Transition (JET).
“It is unclear how the Department of Electricity and the new minister of Electricity in the Presidency, responsible to resolve the electricity crisis, the Eskom recovery plan, and the end to load shedding, will implement the specific actions of the state of disaster without encroaching of this department,” he said.

Yelland pointed out that the other layer of the confusion comes with COGTA and its minister who are responsible for the management of the state of disaster as well as for municipalities and resolving municipal arrear debt to Eskom, local government and cooperative governance. “National Treasury and its minister are responsible for money matters, rescuing Eskom from its debt trap, obtaining JET funding of over R1-trillion, resolving municipal arrear debt to Eskom, ensuring funding for diesel, and funding the actions coming out of the state of disaster declared in electricity. “Truly a complex environment indeed, especially where the leaders do not share a common vision, and perhaps not well suited to quick and decisive action,” said Yelland.

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