Mbeki's new power deal

2008-02-09 00:00

In a significant move to resolve the power crisis, President Thabo Mbeki set South Africa on the path to private electricity provision yesterday, which is likely to see prices escalate drastically.

In an otherwise non-committal state of the nation address, Mbeki opened Parliament yesterday with a call on the nation to unite and "strain every sinew of its collective body" to keep South Africa on course towards a better life for all.

Mbeki acknowledged the prevailing climate of unease, but reassured South Africans that he is convinced the country is on course towards becoming a winning nation.

In an address interpreted by some as a bid to show he is still at the helm of South Africa, Mbeki apologised on behalf of the government and Eskom for the electricity emergency and thanked citizens for their resilience and forbearance in the face of the crisis.

Watched closely by a packed public gallery, which included his political rival, ANC president Jacob Zuma, as well as his 92-year-old mother, Epainette Mbeki, Mbeki announced 24 "Apex Priorities" for government action during the final stretch of his presidency. He also vowed that South Africa will honour its undertaking to hold the "best ever" Fifa Soccer World Cup in 2010.

Mbeki’s address drew sharp criticism from opposition parties for his failure to defend the continuation of the Scorpions. He said only that the cabinet has agreed to establish a "new, modernised, efficient and transformed criminal justice system", promising legislative steps by March "to enhance our capacity to fight organised crime".

Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Sandra Botha slammed Mbeki for his vagueness on the fate of the Scorpions.

"Mbeki did not light up any new lights. He did not show any new leadership. There was no talk about the arms deal, the Scorpions and the threats we face to our Constitution. He lost an opportunity to ensure the people are taken along with him. This was yesterday’s man speaking. He is a man defeated."

However, the new guard of the ANC, including Zuma, hailed Mbeki’s address, with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantasha saying Mbeki showed an "all hands on deck approach".

On his Apex Priorities, Mbeki pledged all three spheres of government to use the short period ahead to "live up to the imperative — Business Unusual".

Mbeki said the main categories of the Apex Priorities are: the further acceleration of economic growth and development; speeding up building the infrastructure needed to achieve economic and social goals; improving interventions in the Second Economy and poverty eradication; enhancing the impact of programmes in education and training; accelerating the goal of health for all; revamping the criminal justice system to fight crime; strengthening the machinery of government to ensure it can respond to development imperatives and enhancing the focus on key areas of international relations.

Turning to the spirit of unease, Mbeki said: "I am aware of the fact that many in our society are troubled by a deep sense of unease about where our country will be tomorrow."

He said he is "convinced that the fundamentals that have informed our country’s forward march in the last 14 years remain in place."

Mbeki said the challenges posed by the current power outages are "surmountable".

"Government will start implementing a campaign to ensure efficient lighting, solar water heating and geyser load management … An instruction has been issued for all government buildings to reduce their consumption of electricity and please feel free to name and shame those who do not."

He said Eskom "is working furiously" to ensure the introduction of co-generation projects, improve coal supply and fast-track gas turbine projects.

Mbeki said the massive Eskom build programme will continue, and some projects will be accelerated.

"I will also shortly announce a team of ‘Energy Champions’ consisting of prominent and knowledgeable South Africans who will assist with the energy efficiency campaign …

"We face an emergency, but we can overcome the problems in a relatively short period.

This situation has precipitated the inevitable realisation that the era of very cheap and abundant electricity has come to an end. However, given our large base of installed generation capacity, for a long time to come ours will remain amongst the few economies with affordable electricity," Mbeki said.

He said part of the Business Unusual campaign will be to intensify national dialogue on the issues that define South Africa as a nation.

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