John Steenhuisen | The ANC must understand the risk it faces if it doesn't act on Eskom crisis

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If political pressure fails to get the ANC to act in the interests of the citizens of this country over the electricity crisis, they must be compelled to do so by a court of law, writes the author. Photo: Luvuyo Mehlwana
If political pressure fails to get the ANC to act in the interests of the citizens of this country over the electricity crisis, they must be compelled to do so by a court of law, writes the author. Photo: Luvuyo Mehlwana

The electricity crisis is the biggest crisis South Africa has faced in the history of our democracy, writes John Steenhuisen.


The energy crisis is now the single biggest threat to SA’s wellbeing, doing profound economic and social harm. It is now costing South Africa four to six billion rand a day, pushing more and more people into poverty, unemployment and crime, and driving away investment.

We’ve had a full year of load shedding altogether since 2015. Last year, the 157 days (3776 hours) of load shedding cost South Africa R560 billion rand in lost productivity. Meantime, ANC cabinet ministers and deputy ministers lack a sense of urgency, because their official residences are exempt from load shedding and instead get free electricity and free generators, paid for by all of us, the taxpayers.

READ | Kyle Cowan: 3 things to be done today to help fix Eskom and bring load shedding to an end faster

And worse is yet to come. Indefinite stage 6 could soon give way to indefinite stage 8 or even a total power failure. This is the biggest crisis South Africa has faced in the history of our democracy. The DA has launched a political and legal fightback and is going all out to shield residents where we govern.

Fightback

The DA has declared 25 January a National Day of Action against ANC load shedding and unaffordable, unfair electricity price increases. The primary venue for this "Power to the People" mass protest will be Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg. We are also using our network of branches and structures across South Africa to provide a platform for people to protest in other cities and towns across the country. 

The ANC needs to understand in no uncertain terms how angry we all are that they are destroying South Africa’s energy infrastructure and economy. In giving people a platform to express their anger, we hope to bring the ANC's incentives in line with South Africa’s by making it clear to them that it is in their best political interest to implement the obvious solutions to this growing crisis urgently. They need to understand the enormous political risk they face if they fail to act fast.

Steps that could be taken to end load shedding 

The DA, along with industry experts, has been proposing these solutions for years. They are the steps we would take were we in national government:

  • Employ experienced engineers and managers to run the various entities of Eskom and stop all political interference in the energy sector.
  • Unbundle Eskom into separate transmission, distribution and generation entities and allow transmission to be operated by an independent grid operator while privatising as many other entities as possible. The DA has written a Private Members Bill to enable this unbundling.
  • Fully open the energy market to independent power producers and incentivise businesses and households to install solar rooftop panels.
  • Declare a ring-fenced State of Disaster around the energy market to exempt it from all obstacles to efficient spending and rapid decision-making such as localisation and BEE legislation.
  • Ramp up security at all key Eskom sites and deal decisively and harshly with saboteurs.

READ | Kevin Mileham: Eskom breakdown - Allow local solutions for industry and municipalities

These steps are all aligned with our party's four core principles for organising society: a commitment to the rule of law, a social market economy (economic decision-making power is decentralised to the people), a capable state (which requires the separation of party and state), and nonracialism (redress through opening economic opportunity and tackling inequality of access rather than through race-based legislation which harms service delivery and deters investment).

Why Luthuli House?

The ANC would have people believe that it is Eskom that has let them down and that it is to Megawatt Park, Eskom’s headquarters, that we should march. It is very important that voters see through this ruse.

By choosing Luthuli House, the DA is taking this fight to the scene of the crime. Through its corrupt policy of cadre deployment, which Chief Justice Zondo declared "unconstitutional and illegal", the ANC has over the past three decades usurped decision-making powers that should rightfully be dispersed in various entities of the State, unlawfully centralising these powers in the ANC. In doing so, they broke one of the golden rules of democracy – the separation of party and state.

Because of the cadre deployment committee records that the DA exposed to the country last year, we know it is at Luthuli House where, over the past 25 years, the decisions were made to "deploy” the corrupt and incompetent ANC cadres who plundered and destroyed Eskom.

READ | Tebogo Khaas: Electricity catastrophe: Bleak future on cards for battered small businesses

It is at Luthuli House that corrupt tenders were handed out, including for the construction of the Medupi and Kusile power stations that have cost our country hundreds of billions of rands, yet still can't provide the power our economy needs to function.

Decisions have consequences. Indefinite stage 6 with a prospect of stage 8 and total power failure is the inevitable consequence of the ANC’s decision back in 1997 to adopt this policy of cadre deployment. The DA has spent the last quarter decade warning against it and opposing it. In fact, our case to have it declared illegal goes to court on 23 and 24 January.

Legal fightback

We have also instructed our lawyers to apply to the High Court to interdict the implementation of electricity price increases which, at 18.65% this April and 12.74% next April, amount to a 33.77% hike over the next 16 months. This is unaffordable and unfair. South Africans should not be forced to pay for the ANC's looting and mismanagement of Eskom through these extortionate tariff increases. Electricity prices have already increased by more than 650% since this crisis started in 2007, which is quadruple the inflation rate over the same period.

We are seeking the following relief:

  • To have NERSA’s decision of 12 January 2023 declared inconsistent with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, to have it declared invalid, and to have it set aside.
  • To have the ongoing and repeated decisions to implement load shedding declared inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore invalid, and to have these decisions set aside. · To have government's response to the ongoing energy crisis declared inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid.
  • To have government's response to the crisis declared as having failed to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights, thereby limiting the right to human dignity, the right to life, the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being, the right of access to healthcare services, the right to access sufficient water, the right to basic education, and the right to access courts.

As part of this application, we will also ask that the court direct government to file, within 30 days, a comprehensive plan, including short-term, medium-term and long-term steps, to avert the energy crisis.

If political pressure fails to get the ANC to act in the interests of the citizens of this country, they must be compelled to do so by a court of law.

The only load shedding we can afford is for our country to shed the load of the ANC in 2024.

- John Steenhuisen is leader of the DA.


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