/ 19 January 2023

Build One South Africa has joined the legal proceedings against Eskom and Pravin Gordhan

Eskom Holdings Soc Ltd Chief Executive Officer Brian Molefe Interview
Eskom told Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts that it was targeting suppliers mentioned in the Zondo report

By the time you find yourself reading this, President Cyril Ramaphosa may have very well made a national announcement to quell the calamitous electricity crisis, along with a promise that rolling blackouts will come to end soon. 

But I wish to caution all South Africans to take it with a pinch of salt. It is not the first time Ramaphosa has performed this trick, and it certainly won’t be the last.

This task of turning around state-owned enterprises (SOEs) — top of the list being Eskom — was given to then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa almost a decade ago. On 2 September 2015, he told parliament: “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.”

Fast-forward seven years to July 2022, when the same man — now president of the country — sent out his weekly newsletter in which he said: “We will then, in the coming days, be able to announce a comprehensive set of actions to achieve much faster progress in tackling load-shedding. 

“We have been working with the relevant ministers and senior officials on a range of additional measures to accelerate all efforts to increase our electricity supply. The message is clear: this is no time for business as usual. We need to act boldly to make load-shedding a thing of the past.”

Persistent, rolling blackouts that have plagued the nation’s electricity supply since the second half of 2007 have severely impacted all South Africans, particularly small businesses, healthcare facilities and educational institutions. The energy crisis has affected South Africa’s economic growth and has resulted in job losses, business closures and increasing inflation.

There are two logical conclusions to these “promises” to fix our energy crisis. Either Ramaphosa is simply lying and there exists no political will to do so. Or, he is well-meaning and sincere but doesn’t have the political capital to act. 

Either way, we are in deep trouble and require a solution. And that solution, we believe, lies with the judiciary. That is why Build One South Africa has formed part of a broad coalition of South Africans who have initiated legal proceedings against Eskom and the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan

On behalf of frustrated South Africans, our action seeks to legally put a stop to the 18.65% tariff increase by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), put an end to load-shedding, and hold the government accountable for its failure to provide electricity to the nation. 

We are of the view that Eskom and the minister of public enterprises are in breach of their obligation to provide electricity. In particular, this infringes upon at least four constitutionally enshrined human rights. Section 22 — the right to choose and practise a trade, occupation or profession freely; Section 24 — the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; Section 27 — the right to healthcare, food, water and social security; and Section 29 — the right to education.

Our legal team has issued a letter of demand that, if not responded to by 20 January, will result in court action. 

We demand the following undertakings: 

Firstly, that there will be no load-shedding without procedural fairness and a fair opportunity to make alternative arrangements for affected persons and businesses.

Secondly, that load-shedding will stop with immediate effect, and if not, a full explanation about why the government is unable to stop it with immediate effect. Alternatively, a specific timetable detailing when load-shedding will end, and the reasons for the said timetable.

Thirdly, that the state will develop and make publicly available a clear plan to end load-shedding, which plan must include the resources available to ensure that it is realised.

Fourthly, that the 18.65% increase granted by Nersa will not be implemented pending the determination of this court challenge.

And lastly, that the state will commit to reasonably compensating everyone who has suffered quantifiable financial losses because of load-shedding. 

Alongside this court action, we are calling on all South Africans to protest against this government. Load-shedding is not a natural disaster, it’s a human disaster inflicted upon us by the ANC over the span of three presidents. Our protest must ultimately result in a new government where we can eliminate private interests and state capture for public interests.

As the energy crisis sheds billions of rand per day, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and 1% of our annual GDP, the time for debate and dialogue is over. Policy-wise, there are many decisions that can be implemented without delay.

South Africa has significant potential to save money through energy efficiency and to increase the share of renewable energy in its energy mix. The country gets 90% of its electricity from coal, as a result of which it is one of the 15 largest emitters of carbon dioxide worldwide. At the same time, increasing economic growth and a lack of investment in power plants are causing shortages in the electricity supply.

Increasing the diversity of South Africa’s electricity generation mix is important not only for enhancing the crucially important security of supply but also to support job creation and mitigate climate change. 

The country is in the fortunate position to have excellent solar and wind resources available. Investments in renewable technologies such as photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power plants and wind turbines are important in this regard.

However, there is still a long way to go towards meeting the country’s renewable energy targets. This holds true for large-scale renewable power plants, but also for the significant potential of solar roof-top photovoltaic and biogas technology which currently is untapped. In the years to come, South Africa needs to build about 40 000MW of new-generation capacity to meet demand requirements.

According to the National Development Plan, 17 800 megawatts should be provided by renewable energies. To achieve this, the government plans to install 8 400MW of wind energy, 8 400MW of solar photovoltaic energy and 1 000MW of concentrated solar power by 2030. 

Energy efficiency is important on both the supply and demand sides. South Africa needs to obtain a greater supply of energy services from renewable sources. Eskom needs to become a regional supplier of energy in the Southern Africa region, integrating renewable energy and partnership with other nations. Energy generation and distribution need to be liberalised, while ensuring energy security for every citizen and enterprise.

This is rooted in the commitment to public-private partnerships in the sector — the surest way to safeguard the future. It also serves to eliminate job reservations at Eskom, with well-above-inflation union demands seeing salary increases for staff while the economy struggles.

As the energy crisis continues to affect our citizens without any sign or plan from the government to come up with solutions to resolve this matter, South Africans rightfully remain angry and feel prejudiced against, while the cost of living continues to rise.

For our county to grow, thrive and create new jobs, investment is needed. And no person or company will invest in a nation that is not energy secure. We owe it to ourselves and the generations to come to get this right — and to get it right now.

Mmusi Maimane is the leader of Build One South Africa.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.