The North Gauteng High Court has placed the blame for South Africa’s energy crisis firmly on the shoulders of the South African government.
by Roger Lilley, Energize
In a ruling on Friday 2 December 2023, Judge Norman Davis on behalf of a full bench of judges, said that the government was in breach of the Constitution by failing to provide adequate electricity to the country. The African National Congress, together with its alliance partners, the Communist Party and Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) when it came into power in 1994 swore to uphold the Constitution of the Republic. Every president appointed between then and now has made the same commitment. The government, made up of this alliance, however, has failed to comply by failing to provide the basic human right of access to reliable, affordable electricity, the court ruled.
History shows that the ANC government had mismanaged and interfered with Eskom to the point of making the utility inefficient, overstaffed, and poorly managed so that it became unable to supply power reliably and had to resort to ever-increasing Stages of load shedding to protect itself from a total collapse.
Studies show that the country’s electricity crisis – now in its 17th year – had undermined economic growth, was responsible for high levels of unemployment and created concerns that scared foreign investors away from South Africa. The scourge of load shedding had also resulted in an increase in crime, preventable deaths, and an increase in traffic accidents, and had given many South Africans a sense of hopelessness.
Recently, car manufacturer Volkswagen sounded a warning that Government must address the dual challenges of load shedding and draconian labour laws to encourage foreign companies – like Volkswagen – to invest or even remain in South Africa.
In his judgment, Judge Davis stated that although the ruling party had the power to prevent it, wide-scale looting and corruption continued at Eskom. Not only did the government fail to protect Eskom against criminal activity, corruption, and state capture, but it also failed to bring to reality its plans for additional power generation early enough to avoid load shedding in the first place. The court also criticised Government’s failure to ensure that the power utility’s critical assets were maintained properly.
The government alone was responsible for Eskom having 11 (government-appointed) CEOs over 12 years. This made continuous management impossible. The board too had been changed far too frequently. And like the various CEOs, many board members were totally and woefully incompetent to hold the positions they were given.
The government’s interference and meddling in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) was also criticised. This means that by now, far more wind and solar projects could have been built and supplying power to ease the burden off Eskom.
Although this ruling was made in December 2023, the President, it seems, was aware of the fact that only Government could address the problems plaguing Eskom. Less than a year ago, following the resignation of Eskom’s last CEO – Andre de Ruyter – President Ramaphosa created a new portfolio within the Presidency – a minister of electricity. This gave the impression that the president would be more personally involved in addressing the crisis. While some commentators welcomed the president’s personal interest in solving the crisis, many saw this move as his lack of confidence in the minister of public enterprises, who was responsible for Eskom, and the minister of energy, who oversaw the REIPPPP, to bring load shedding to an end.
After the appointment of Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as the minister of electricity, things appeared to improve, but by November Stage 6 load shedding was implemented again. As I write this piece, Stage 4 is being implemented.
This even though overall demand is lower than before, due in part to a massive increase in privately owned rooftop PV with battery energy storage systems (about 4000 MW), and a reduction of factory output. At the same time, large-scale wind and solar plants add about 6000 MW to the grid.
Thus, for Eskom to need to reduce load, which peaks at the moment at about 28 000 MW, by 6000 MW to keep the system stable, means that things at Eskom must be far worse than the power utility – or the government is telling us.
The court ruled that electricity minister Ramokgopa must ensure – by the end of January next year – that “there shall be sufficient supply or generation of electricity to prevent any interruption of supply as a result of load shedding” to all public health facilities, all public schools and police stations.
It will be interesting to see if he will accomplish this – and how.