The following remarks were made today by DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, outside Eskom’s Megawatt Park in Johannesburg. Steenhuisen was joined by DA Gauteng Caucus Leader, Solly Msimanga MPL, DA Gauteng Chairperson, Mike Moriarty MPL, and Public Enterprises Spokesperson, Ghaleb Cachalia MP:
Fellow South Africans,
Yesterday evening Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC government once again made history, albeit for the wrong reasons, as Eskom announced it would implement Stage 6 rolling blackouts for the first time. This unprecedented move signalled that we are now firmly in a race against time to transform the energy landscape in South Africa and ensure future generations are energy secure.
While President Ramaphosa is currently in Egypt surrounded by ancient ruins from a bygone era, today we too stand in front of a ruin from a bygone era – South Africa’s power producer that faces imminent collapse. The viability of Eskom in its current form is non-existent. This is not a crisis of new making; it has been fast approaching for a decade and more. Yet we face the ever-repeating cycle of drastic energy challenges with little political will to make the decisions required to ensure cheaper and more secure energy is available to the people of South Africa.
It is telling that at the height of what is not just an electricity crisis, but an economic risk and safety threat, the President decided to jet out of the country on an international sojourn to Egypt. Ramaphosa is greatly mistaken if he thinks he can run a country and manage this crisis via a cell phone. This requires bold and decisive leadership, not platitudes. The devastating effect of these blackouts on industry, retail, growth and jobs constitutes a clear and present danger to our economic wellbeing.
Therefore, we reiterate our call for the President to cancel his engagements in Egypt and return home to provide leadership on this self-created crisis. Ramaphosa should address Parliament, taking the nation into his confidence as to what is really transpiring at Eskom. It is unprecedented in a month like a December with such low demand we have rolling blackouts at all – raising suspicion as to what the President is not telling the nation. It’s time to come clean on exactly what the structural problems at Eskom are and how his government plans to address them. The President could signal his seriousness by sacking Gwede Mantashe, who is absent and woefully out of his depth in dealing with this national crisis.
I have today written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, requesting that Parliament is reconvened immediately in order for the President to address the legislature, and to consider its options going forward. It is not right that while the lights are off in the country, the people’s representatives are not convening to light the way forward.
In a press statement last night responding to this unfolding crisis, President Ramaphosa said “[T]he energy challenges in this country will not be resolved overnight”. The tragedy is that much can be done immediately to turn the situation around. The most efficient immediate step is using Section 34 of the Electricity Regulation Act (4 of 2006) which allows the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy to issue a determination that allows qualifying municipalities to bypass Eskom and procure electricity directly from Independent Power Producers (IPPs).
Contrary to the President’s views, this can be done overnight and would go a long way to resolving energy shortages and pressure on the grid. Introducing IPPs into the mix is now a necessity. in fact, right now Minister Mantashe is sitting with at least seventeen section 34 applications for private generation and purchase of electricity on his desk waiting to be signed – from municipalities, mines and corporations. The President must intervene and ensure these are acceded to within the next 48 hours.
In terms of the role of DA-led governments, I will be instructing every DA mayor in the country to, where appropriate and possible, write to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, requesting such a determination to be granted with immediate effect. The DA-led City of Cape Town has had to take Minister Mantashe to court to compel him to grant such a determination and we are exploring options to move this case to the urgent roll, given the gravity of the latest developments.
In addition, I will be issuing a directive to all DA-led municipalities to develop and implement disaster management plans as rolling blackouts should little sign of ceasing. Essential services such as bulk water supply, sanitation services and clinics must be adequately managed, and all risks mitigated against. In the absence of any concrete plan from national government, we call on all provinces to also develop and implement disaster management plans in this regard.
In the medium term, we must split Eskom into two separate entities – one for generation and the other supply. This would ensure a greater supply of energy to the grid from IPPs and bring down the cost of electricity for ordinary South Africans by introducing competition into the energy market. The DA’s “Cheaper Electricity Bill” seeks to do just that and is currently before Parliament, it sets out a clear, workable alternative to the current dithering by national government and should be fast-tracked.
Where the DA is in government in the Western Cape, we have introduced the Energy Security Game Changer which continues to diversify and conserve energy supply, and we have legalised the household production of solar energy for over 22 municipalities. Despite the work DA governments are doing in the highly regulated energy environment, the change in our energy sector has to come from national government.
In a time of crisis, leadership must stand up and charter the way forward. This is a golden opportunity for President Ramaphosa to redeem himself following years of failure in turning around our failed State-Owned Enterprises. As Chair of the Interministerial Committee on SOEs from 2014, it was his task to avoid the crisis we find ourselves in today. He failed then; he owes it to South Africa to not fail now.
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