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    Energy crisis - protests and court action planned to hold government accountable

    January 17, 2023 - Kuben Chetty


      President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government should expect a wave of protests and court action as the country grapples with indefinite stage 6 load shedding while an 18.65% electricity tariff hike has been granted to power utility Eskom.

      This is the view of political parties who yesterday said the government needed to account for the crisis. Last week there was outrage when the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) announced it had approved an 18.65% tariff increase.

      Ramaphosa cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos to deal with the electricity crisis, but delegates who will go to the meeting will be hard pressed to convince others to invest as the country experiences a precarious period of energy insecurity.

      Eskom offered a slight reprieve for consumers yesterday when it announced that load shedding would move to stage 4 from 5am this morning with stage 5 kicking in from 4pm tonight. However, it said the move to lower stages depended on units returning to service as planned.

      UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, Build One South Africa movement leader Mmusi Maimane and policy analyst Lukhona Mnguni have asked advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and Eric Mabuza to take the government, Eskom and Nersa to court over the load-shedding crisis.

      Holomisa said there was little information on what was being done to reverse the high levels of load shedding and they had no option but to go to court and find out if government had a back-up plan should the grid collapse and the entire country be plunged into a blackout.

      Maimane said they had consulted their legal team and were drafting legal papers, which should be filed by the end of this week.

      “We are going to challenge the rationale of Nersa giving Eskom an 18.65% increase and the ongoing high level of load shedding, but our broader argument is that while no one has been held accountable, the Constitution makes provision for the supply of energy as a basic right.

      “Load shedding has an impact on health care and if hospitals don’t have electricity then this impacts on the right to life. It also affects the rights to education if schools are impacted by load shedding.“

      Maimane said all of these rights were fairly dependent on energy supply.

      “We feel government is incapable of protecting these rights that are meant to protect citizens.”

      Protests have already started in some parts of the country and yesterday residents in Boksburg, Gauteng, barricaded roads with burning tyres and rocks.

      Yesterday Azapo and the PAC embarked on a picket outside the Nersa offices in Pretoria to protest against the tariff increase.

      The PAC’s Dr Pitso Mphasha said they were calling on Nersa to review the decision to give Eskom such an exorbitant increase.

      “Today was just a picket but it will be followed by a mass protest by opposition parties. There is an engagement taking place between all opposition parties in Parliament. We want to stage a massive protest together and we are encouraging citizens, whether apolitical or not, and civil society organisations to join,” said Mphasha, adding that a date for the nationwide protest had not yet been agreed on.

      Labour federations Cosatu and Saftu as well as political parties have jointly condemned Nersa’s decision to grant Eskom the tariff increase, describing the move as a ploy “to plunge ordinary South Africans into further poverty”.

      Ramaphosa met with opposition political parties on Sunday and held meetings with the National Energy Crisis Committee and the Eskom board.

      The DA is planning a major protest to take place at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters on January 25 to address the ongoing load shedding.

      Ghaleb Cachalia, the party’s spokesperson on public enterprises, said the march would focus on load shedding and the tariff increase received by Eskom.

      “Load shedding has been ongoing for more than a decade and the frog has been proverbially boiled slowly over time.

      “There was an acceptance over time of the need for load shedding but the proviso was that the problem would be fixed at some stage. Clearly this is not the case and we could be heading for a national blackout.”

      Cachalia said load shedding was exacerbating unemployment and leading to the closure of small and large businesses.

      “Large businesses have the capacity to find alternative means to run their operations and some households that can afford to are going off the grid.

      “But the ordinary man in the street and many businesses do not have the capacity to go off the grid.”

      Cachalia said whoever took up the CEO and COO position at Eskom would be faced with existing challenges.


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