/ 1 June 2023

Ramaphosa pleads for optimism, even about load-shedding

0001055342 Resized Cyrilramaphosasaic202304231022
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the fifth edition of the South African Investment Conference. Photo: Supplied

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said South Africans should summon optimism that the country’s problems, including load-shedding, can be overcome because a positive attitude allowed for better perspective.

In reply to the debate on the presidency’s budget vote, he told the National Assembly that the anger and frustration the public felt about the electricity crisis was understandable.

“At times like this, the electricity crisis appears unrelenting, as if there is no end in sight. Yet, if one considers the work that is being done and the progress that is being made — as outlined yesterday by Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa — it is clear that we have solid ground for hope.” 

Over time, it was possible to achieve electricity stability, he said.

“While we have been honest and forthright about the difficult months ahead, we are confident that the measures now in place, including the massive new investment in electricity generation capacity, will enable us to end load shedding and achieve energy security. Indeed, the pessimism emanating from the opposition benches is not shared by all.”

Ramaphosa said his detractors, chief among them opposition leader John Steenhuisen, had distorted “both the South African reality and the actions of this administration” during Wednesday’s debate.

He quoted Standard Bank Group chief executive Sim Tshabalala, writing in the bank’s annual report last year: “South Africa’s severe shortage of electricity is costing us dearly.”

Tshabalala warned that the economy would underperform for as long as the crisis continued, but added: “However, the right set of policies are — at long last — in place and a great deal of new public and private investment in generation is starting to follow. Standard Bank is, therefore, confident that South Africa will, once again, have a fully adequate supply of electricity within the next few years.”

Ramaphosa said the report went on to term optimism “a precondition for more accurate analysis, stronger leadership and better outcomes” and he fully agreed.

“We are not prepared to surrender to pessimism and doubt.”

He said the opposition was wrong when it spoke of a gulf between his government and the business sector.

“We meet to discuss their concerns and suggestions and to forge common solutions to critical problems,” Ramaphosa said.

“Our experience has been that the leadership of business appreciates the value of partnership and constructive engagement. As government, we do not see the role of business as oppositional.”

The president, who is frequently criticised for his tendency to establish a commission to advise the government on whatever problem it faces, said the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council had helped to formulate the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Energy Action Plan to end load-shedding.

Similarly, the Presidential Climate Commission was helping to guide the government’s climate actions, including the just energy transition, and the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council was helping to support the recommendations of the State Capture Commission.

“We cannot assure mutual prosperity, we cannot overcome poverty and inequality, we cannot emerge from the power crisis and we cannot resolve long-standing challenges, unless we forge such partnerships,” Ramaphosa said.

Responding to even more frequent criticism that the presidency is bloated with ministers, deputy ministers and officials to compensate for a lack of trust in his cabinet, Ramaphosa said it was the centre of government and needed certain skills to drive progress on strategic priorities. 

“It is not about counting heads, but about attracting the necessary capacity, requisite skills and technical expertise to fulfil our crucial mandate.”