Eskom Crisis: South Africa’s State Of Disaster

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Credit: Pete Godfrey/Unsplash

To address a severe and unheard-of energy crisis, the president of South Africa has proclaimed a state of calamity. Blackouts have been a daily occurrence for South Africans, severely affecting both homes and companies. Will this emergency step, if any, make a difference?, as reported by BBC.

How bad are the power cuts?

At an ice cream parlour in Soweto, one company has been struggling to keep their frozen treats cold amid rolling power cuts, referred to locally as “load shedding”.

“It’s terrible,” Thando Makhubu, owner of Soweto Creamery, told the BBC’s Newsday programme. “When load-shedding is really, really bad, we find ourselves using our profit to run,” Mr Makhubu said.

He even fears customers might stop coming to his creamery: “We have had customers who assume that we are closed, because of load-shedding, so I am really worried that if load-shedding worsens, people won’t come.”

His business and home are just a few of the many that have been impacted by South Africa’s energy crisis, which has even sparked protests and the cry “enough is enough.”

As a result, President Cyril Ramaphosa has come under increasing pressure to address the problem, which he has promised to do. In his state of the nation address on Thursday, he stated that “We must act to lessen the impact of the crisis on farmers, on small businesses, on our water infrastructure, on our transport network, and a number of other areas and facilities that support our people’s lives.”

A national state of disaster

Before a clapping crowd, he announced: “We are therefore declaring a national state of disaster to respond to the electricity crisis and its effect.”

President Ramaphosa outlined that the escalation of the crisis would allow the government to implement “practical measures that we need to take to support businesses,” he said, highlighting those in food production and retail supply chains.

“It will also enable us to exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from load-shedding,” he said, adding that it would allow the government to remove red tape for energy projects and so build them faster.

This situation has been building for fifteen years and is nothing new. The nation’s state-owned electricity utility, Eskom, is hobbled by $26 billion (£21 billion) in debt, outdated infrastructure, dysfunctional power plants, and a recent strike.

However, the power crisis has been worse recently, with South Africans experiencing power outages for up to 15 hours per day this year compared to 288 days last year.

What difference will it make?

A state of catastrophe essentially means that the government is given more authority to handle a crisis with less red tape, more resources, and less bureaucracy.

The AFP news agency was informed by one expert, Ted Blom, that “we don’t know what the administration genuinely wants to do” due to the fact that further information about what would happen has not been made public.

During the COVID pandemic, a state of disaster was also enacted, and some people abused the emergency measure.

The nation’s then-auditor general claimed in 2020 that he had discovered “frightening findings” of overfunding and possible fraud in the use of the Covid-19 relief fund, including some instances where personal protective equipment (PPE) was purchased for five times the price the national treasury had recommended. In response, the administration ordered those accused of corruption to step down and work with law enforcement.

Potential corruption

However, the president foresaw potential corruption and declared that precautions would be taken to avoid it.

The chief whip of the opposition Democratic Alliance told the BBC that her party will be “contesting this statement” because there should be “targeted” intervention towards Eskom rather than a broad state of catastrophe notwithstanding his attempts to address alleged malfeasance.

Siviwe Gwarube also stated to South Africa’s News24, “[It] offers unrestricted authority to the executive, the parliament has no oversight over the executive under certain of those sections of the act.”

More significantly, she continued, “it effectively permits government departments across the board to sabotage procurement processes as and when at will.”

Others contend that the president hasn’t acted with sufficient rigour and that the emergency move won’t make any impact at all.

According to Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, a development economist at Stellenbosch Business School, “the country needs right now is a planned and extremely definite action plan with dates, with targets, and with a status report.”

She continued, “It doesn’t seem like any remedies we have will produce any results that are going to reverse the trend and the road that this country is on.”

Minister of potholes

Assuming “full responsibility for monitoring all areas of the electrical crisis response,” the appointment of an electricity minister was also made public.

Online trolls, however, have made fun of this proposed job, claiming that the individual would have no idea how to resolve the situation and that the nation would soon have a minister of “potholes.”

The country’s ambitions to continue its green energy transformation programme were also highlighted by the president, including the “roll-out of rooftop solar panels.”

The majority of South Africa’s electricity is generated by outdated coal-fired power plants; according to the International Energy Agency, only 7% of its energy in 2020 comes from renewable sources.

 

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Source: BBC