/ 16 February 2023

Ramaphosa defends state of disaster, electricity ministry

At a press briefing on Friday
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday told parliament the new minister of electricity he plans to appoint will oversee every aspect of efforts to end load-shedding, without encroaching on the terrain of the ministers of energy and public enterprises.

“Some have suggested that the appointment of the minister will cause confusion and fragmentation, and that it might also result in turf wars among the ministers who deal with energy and Eskom,” Ramaphosa said in reply to the fractious debate on his State of the Nation address, delivered last Thursday.

“This is not the case. The minister of electricity will be focused day in and day out only on addressing the load-shedding crisis, working together with the management of Eskom and the board. The minister will be leading the national energy crisis committee and interacting with all other departments in the spirit of cooperative governance.”

Ramaphosa reiterated his assertion in last week’s speech that there was no need to announce another plan further to the rescue response to the energy crisis outlined last July.

It included: buying excess electricity from independent power producers, importing electricity from neighbouring states and scrapping licensing requirements for private electricity projects that feed into the grid.

“We need to accelerate implementation of the plan that we have. We have already taken a number of important steps to reduce the severity and frequency of load-shedding,” Ramaphosa said.

“The measures which the minister of finance will announce in next week’s budget will boost the rollout of rooftop solar by businesses and households.”

He then defended the declaration of a national state of disaster regarding the power crisis, and ridiculed the Democratic Alliance for going to court to challenge a decision it advocated months ago, including in letters to him.

Ramaphosa also took care to pay deference to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, widely regarded as a gatekeeper on renewable energy and regressive champion of coal, but an invaluable political ally as chairperson of the ruling ANC.

“As Minister Mantashe said, urgency of execution and delivery is paramount. We don’t have the luxury of time. Several speakers in this debate have argued that the national state of disaster is unnecessary, or that it will allow for abuse of the system,” he said. 

“This includes some leaders in the opposition — such as the premier of the Western Cape — who as recently as last month were writing me letters and holding media briefings calling for a state of disaster to be declared.

“The state of disaster that was declared last week will be used to mitigate the social and economic effects of load-shedding and accelerate the measures necessary to close the shortfall in electricity, and nothing else,” he said. “We will use the state of disaster to get rid of unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of urgently bringing new generation capacity onto the grid.”

Ramaphosa then spoke directly to coal, saying: “We need to dispel this idea that we are abandoning coal as a fuel source. We should all remember that coal-fired power stations provide 80% of our energy source and will therefore continue to provide the bulk of our ‘base load’ supply into the future.”

He added that the government was committed to ensuring a diversity of energy resources, including solar, wind and nuclear.

Speaking perhaps to Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s scruples, he said: “We must dispel the idea that unbundling of Eskom into three separate state-owned entities is out of step with international trends. 

“The reality is that over 100 countries [including China, Germany and Russia] have established independent transmission and system operation companies. We need to dispel the claim that creating a more competitive, efficient and sustainable electricity generation market threatens the ability of the state to provide affordable electricity to its citizens.”

On Thursday, the Organisation Against Tax Abuse announced that it was also mounting  a court challenge to the declaration of a national state of disaster.
The government already faces two constitutional challenges to continued load-shedding, one by the Democratic Alliance, and another by 19 organisations nominally fronted by the fellow opposition United Democratic Movement