As the government terminates the electricity state of disaster, stakeholders are emphasizing the importance of addressing the ongoing energy crisis with continued urgency. Although opinions on the effectiveness of the state of disaster are varied, there is a unanimous call for persistent and aggressive intervention.
On Wednesday, the government issued a gazette declaring the end of the state of disaster, which had been announced approximately two months ago to tackle the energy crisis. This decision comes in the midst of legal challenges filed by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and trade union Solidarity, both seeking a review and annulment of the decision.
The government has yet to submit replying affidavits, and a court date has not been scheduled. Both organizations received notice from the state attorney on Wednesday that the state of disaster would be terminated, resulting in the withdrawal of the legal challenges.
Independent energy analyst Clyde Mallinson, who has long believed that the energy crisis has not received the urgency it warrants, stated that the situation has now led to a “mopping up operation” with consequences such as job losses and small business closures due to a lack of electricity supply.
Mallinson told News24, “When it becomes a so-called disaster, the disaster is not the state of Eskom’s electricity production. It is the impact of not having electricity. The shutting down of small businesses and people losing jobs. The impact on lives and livelihoods.” He added, “We have not treated the growing crisis with the respect it deserves.”
During a briefing on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Parks Tau explained that the government considered various factors before deciding to end the state of disaster after consultations. Among these factors were the ongoing litigation and a review that determined no additional powers or “extraordinary measures” would be necessary for officials to address the crisis.
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa stated that if “additional weapons or arsenal” were needed to respond to the crisis, the determination of a state of disaster would be made. However, for now, the instruments available to the government are sufficient.
One such instrument is the power that Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has to expedite decision-making for environmental applications, licenses, and permissions. During the state of disaster, Creecy granted Eskom an allowance to fast-track its application for an exemption from operating Kusile with Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD), necessary for limiting sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations.
Ramokgopa clarified that Creecy’s allowance was “exercised outside the provisions of the Disaster Management Act” and within the “instruments” already available to her. He added that the termination of the state of disaster would not undermine the “agility, pace, and responsiveness” of procurement.
This development raised questions during the briefing about the necessity and impact of the state of disaster. According to Cogta Minister Thembi Nkadimeng, the state of disaster did enable some changes, such as exempting certain hospitals from load shedding and ensuring the continued delivery of social services.
However, opinions among analysts and other stakeholders remain mixed. Peter Attard Montalto, managing director of research and consulting firm Intellidex, described the state of disaster as a “political fig leaf” that made no substantive difference to the energy crisis.
Parliamentary coordinator for Cosatu, Matthew Parks, emphasized that the primary focus moving forward should be providing Eskom with the support it needs to end load shedding, regardless of the state of disaster’s termination.
Business Unity South Africa CEO Cas Coovadia insisted that the energy crisis is still an urgent matter requiring appropriate government action, using legal and regulatory tools at its disposal. Coovadia argued, “The Minister of Electricity must mobilize capacity offered by the private sector to address operational problems at identified power stations so that load shedding can be managed at lower stages in the immediate and short term.”
“The private sector is already supporting Necom (National Energy Crisis Committee) in the Presidency by finding the expertise to implement the president’s energy plan urgently, which will put us on the road to a more diversified and sustainable energy infrastructure, with significant power generation by the private sector,” Coovadia added.
During the briefing, Tau acknowledged that the termination of the state of disaster does not signify the end of the energy crisis. Power outages continue to occur, and load shedding remains an ongoing issue that requires a solution.
“The outages still continue, so we still experience load shedding. And therefore, we need to deal with load shedding,” Tau said.
As the government lifts the state of disaster, it is essential to remember that the energy crisis is far from over. Stakeholders and experts agree that urgent, continuous action is necessary to address the ongoing challenges posed by the crisis, as it continues to impact lives and livelihoods across the nation. The government and private sector must work together to develop a diversified and sustainable energy infrastructure to mitigate the effects of load shedding and secure a stable energy future for the country.
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