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    Ramaphosa's power remarks show that 'we are on our own'

    March 13, 2023 - Opinion



      Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa’s unfortunate response to the load-shedding crisis when he said: “I don’t have a legal duty to end load-shedding”, rightfully caused a major uproar.

      A group of nineteen aggrieved applicants had complained that Ramaphosa’s failure to mitigate the power crisis constituted a political failure and a breach of the Constitution. The president opposed this application, underscoring that according to the law, the provision of electricity does not rest in his office.

      This bombshell statement comes in the aftermath of the State of the Nation Address (Sona) on February 9th, during which Ramaphosa expressed his steadfast mission to overcome the national power challenges, even inducting a yet-to-be-named “Minister of Electricity” to address the load shedding crisis and the management of Eskom.

      In the wake of the President’s remarks, flocks of citizens immediately expressed their disdain on social media platforms. They felt let down by the distasteful remarks from the nation’s leader, especially about such a crucial issue at this critical time.

      The positioning of the country as it stands today shows that we need to abandon our dependency on the government very quickly, as well as the false idea that they are here to help. As poignantly presented by the president, they are not.

      Henceforth, we need to ensure that we collaborate as households, neighbourhoods and communities to support each other through this difficult time of unreliable power supply.

      For many, this means beginning or partaking in shared transportation methods, utilising a shared vehicles programme for grocery store strips and frequent activities, as well as engaging in other common activities such as a visit to a local park or local swimming pool.

      Furthermore, there is a plethora of societal issues that are classified as national crises and are being confronted on a national level. The issues that we contend with as a nation intersects in many different ways.

      As a nation, we are bailing as the boat sinks rather than plugging the hole. I want to argue that this week, our president has been deterred from leadership and put a sense of his self-worth at the forefront of this very desperate crisis.

      Yes, load shedding will not be addressed in a week or even a month, but his sentiments were a great impediment to the alleviation of this crisis. They were outright discouraging. Power outages in SA have been extremely rampant, pervasively disruptive, and riddled with additional challenges.

      As such, a beneficial and pragmatic answer would have been one that, at the least, mitigates the stressors and frustrations of the people, one that shows some sort of empathy rather than the distanced and dispassionate sentiments that were uttered. As a leader, it is one’s job to inspire confidence.

      To be assured, accountable, and reasonable.

      For President Ramaphosa to respond in such a cold way shows a dangerous lack of empathy and constructs him as far removed from the people he leads.

      In the particularly unique position he is in, he may not be entangled with the pervasive societal issues that citizens are frequently presented with, but he should at the least grapple with these challenges effectively, as his position so pertinently entails.

      The president should not attack this issue from a legal perspective because he ultimately holds a moral obligation to do what’s best for the country and its people. Yes, as a president and as a leader in government, it is important to understand your role, especially when it comes to national provisions. It is also of utmost importance that a leader facilitates the social, political, and institutional environments in which citizens can thrive.

      Beneath poor leadership quality, however, the harsh reality is that this country is bleeding money. The best way for citizens to handle this will be through financial literacy. Financial literacy is especially pertinent in the SA context, where there are currently deeply entrenched inequalities across our society that communicates certain ideas about certain people. For example, those who are financially disadvantaged should not aim for academic success, excellence or high-level positions.

      Knowledge not only leads to individuals being empowered but also people being able to make financial decisions that are catered for and benefit their entire family. This is especially valuable for female-led households, which may need to save more stringently than male-led or couple-led households.

      This will not only result in the alleviation of debt and hardships but also construct your desires for your financial future. As the economy becomes increasingly destabilised, people of all ages must be properly schooled about their financial capacity, obligations and resources at their disposal.

      This not only ensures a successful future that’s catered to one’s desires and plans but also ensures that people are autonomous in the way that they live. It gives one the opportunity to be empowered and build multiple streams of income that make them less dependent on the highs and lows of the global economy.

      Ultimately, SA citizens need to undertake their financial education and economic freedom with more seriousness and vigour. It is of the utmost importance that individuals empower themselves effectively enough to bare the nuances that come with national politics and to ensure provisions in times when they are desperately needed.

      This is the only way to ensure that we have a prosperous economic future. An acclaimed fictional character once uttered the distinct words: “A leader who doesn’t care… is the kiss of death.” In recent years, our beautiful land has been riddled with continuous power outages.

      The Department of Basic Education spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, is especially concerned about the effects of load shedding on learners, who are often dependent on electricity - either through transportation, teaching and learning resources and equipment.

      Innumerable families will be significantly affected, as power outages have been affecting the operations of communications services, water supplies, various transportation routes, banks and ATMs, grocery stores, and garage stations. Additionally, long hours of power outages can result in food spoilage, damage to appliances, water contamination, and material damage from persistent leaks.

      In SA, female-led households are especially financially strained by power outages as SA women reportedly earn 28% less than men. Female-led households are particularly vulnerable to financial strain, financial manipulation, and displacement.

      In 2021, Statista reported that 42% of SA households were female-led. The larger number of female-headed households was located in provinces with larger portions of rural areas.

      Unequal earnings persist in households as well: 38% of homes are managed by women, and such households are 40% poorer than ones managed by men.

      In addition, 48% of women-led households support extended family members compared to 23% of their male counterparts. In this regard, unequal earnings plus proportionally higher economic demands on women call further attention to SA’s income inequality.

      Furthermore, research has found that females are more likely to undertake informal or unpaid work, at times, in unregulated sectors. This not cast to the fore the vulnerability that female-led households are under but also the ripple effect that load shedding is truly having on our homes, our communities, and our nation at large.

      Researchers Ewinyu and Shedi (2022) outline “occupational segregation” as male workers who are increasingly situated in high-paying occupations whilst women remain in low–paying positions. This gender gap is particularly stark for African and coloured female employees.

      Although mitigating load shedding may be a commonplace topic nowadays, it is important to understand how deeply inequitable our society still is. The post-apartheid SA context holds with it the tensions of the past that continue to systematically subjugate people of colour.

      As a result, modern-day SA still contends with systems and structures that seek to repress previously disadvantaged people systematically and socio-economically. I find it mind-boggling to assume that scores of underprivileged SA households should grapple with the ever-rising cost of living on their own.

      They manage the countless challenges presented by power outages without much help. Realistically, power outages require more resources than many plans for. Generators, solar panels, inverters and UPS’s are not particularly affordable or accessible, and they require maintenance to effectively perform optimally.

      A purchase worth thousands of rands is not undertaken in a swift moment - it is carefully planned out and budgeted for. It is, therefore, unrealistic to expect even half of the population to promptly invest in the available alternative sources of power.

      Societal challenges, such as unemployment, Gender-Based Violence and Femicide, crime, homelessness and mental illnesses, are only compounded by the steady incline of prices that result in underprivileged and middle-class citizens struggling to survive.


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