Note to Editors: the following speech was delivered today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, in the Ngwathe region of the Free State as part of his Kasi-to-Kasi Tour. Maimane was joined by DA Free State Premier Candidate, Patricia Kopane.
Fellow South Africans
Our country is facing a critical energy crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the dawn of our democracy. If the Eskom collapse is not immediately halted and reversed, it could plunge our country into a downward spiral from which we may never recover.
Beyond the inconvenience of going without electricity for hours at a time, we face serious risks to our water distribution network, our sewage system and our primary healthcare. The continuous interruptions are also causing extensive damage to our electricity distribution system, which wasn’t built to be switched off and on all the time. Simply put, if this load-shedding carries on much longer, or if it escalates to Stages 5 and beyond, we could be looking at a complete collapse of both our infrastructure and our currency.
Already the effects of load-shedding have been devastating to our economy, with small businesses suffering heavy losses, and some already having to shut their doors. For every small business that closes shop, dozens of employees and family members immediately lose their only income. And the effects these power cuts will have on future investment in our economy cannot even be calculated.
A municipality like Ngwathe simply cannot afford this kind of setback. When unemployment and poverty are already as high as they are here, rolling blackouts for hours at a time, and for days on end, are the spark that will set off this powder keg.
What makes matters worse here is that Ngwathe Municipality is one of the biggest defaulters on Eskom debt in the country, owing almost a billion Rand to the power utility. While the national ANC government has let Eskom crash and burn, it is local ANC governments like Ngwathe that have been adding fuel to the fire by not paying their bills.
This is a national crisis, and we have very little time to fix it before the damage is too great and our economy collapses entirely. What we need, more than anything else right now, is the truth. We need our government to tell us just how severe this crisis is so that we can prepare ourselves. But instead we only get vague statements that deliberately obscure the truth and try to spread the blame. And so South Africans are left to piece together the story from other sources.
This is not good enough – not by a long shot. In such times of crisis, real leadership shoulders its responsibilities, owns up to its faults and plays open cards with the people. Real leadership says: Yes, the whole truth might be uncomfortable for us, but it’s the only way to get all of society on board and make them part of the solution.
When the Western Cape was hit by three years of drought and the dams that supplied water to millions of people fell dangerously low, the DA-led city of Cape Town and Western Cape governments were faced with a similar choice: Either hide the full picture, dodge the hard questions and hope it blows over, or lay all the cards on the table, take the people into your confidence and ask everyone to help find a solution that can keep the taps running. They chose the latter and, through a tremendous team effort, the crisis was overcome.
President Ramaphosa now finds himself before a similar choice, but so far he has disappointingly gone for the first option: blame and confuse; duck and dive.
Let us also not forget that it was the very same Cyril Ramaphosa who was put in charge of turning around our failed State Owned Enterprises – and specifically the struggling Eskom –back in 2014. As Chair of the Interministerial Committee on SOEs, it was his task to avoid the crisis we find ourselves in today. Clearly he didn’t do his job. Since then every single SOE, from SAA and SABC to Prasa and Transnet, has fallen apart and now needs to be bailed out with billions every year.
But instead of putting up his hand and saying “I accept my share of responsibility for this”, he has tried to tell us that we are somehow all responsible for the mess at Eskom and the daily rolling blackouts. No, Mr President, we are not all responsible for this. The ANC is, and you are. Start by admitting to this, and then give us the answers we deserve so we can try to avoid the worst of this disaster. Answers to questions like:
Exactly how bad is the Eskom crisis, and exactly how much money is owed by Eskom?
When is payment of this money due, and how much foreign denominated debt is due within the next two months?
What is government’s plan to prevent major damage to infrastructure caused by power failures?
And what does our disaster management plan look like in case the situation worsens, assuming we have such a plan?
If we know these things then all of us – civil society, business, NGOs, ordinary citizens, opposition parties and government – can harness our collective power to avoid the worst of this crisis. Then we can urgently speak of solutions, such as relaxing the legislation around Independent Power Producers and allowing local governments to purchase electricity directly from them.
But if President Ramaphosa and his government continue to treat the people of this country like children who don’t need to know the truth, then there will be no whole-of-society solution. Then the only solution is to use the collective power of our votes to replace this government of lies and cover-ups with a government that has a record of dealing openly and honestly with the people.
In the mean time I want to call on each and every South African to stand together as we demand answers and action from government. This coming Friday we will be staging a National Day of Action, where South Africans across the country can show this government exactly who holds the power, and that we will not allow our country to implode at the hands of the ANC. This will not be a party political action, but rather an effort to harness the power of all South Africans to save our country. We did so before when we said no to Jacob Zuma and State Capture, and it is now time for us to unite again.
Fellow South Africans, it is not too late to save South Africa, but then we must act right away. We must agree now to privatise Eskom’s electricity generation entities and allow a more diverse range of energy onto our grid. We must agree now to halt all further work on the failing Medupi and Kusile power stations, and instead look to bring on more Independent Power Producers. We must agree now to install smart meters that allow municipalities to collect outstanding revenue. And we must agree now to let municipalities buy their energy directly from independent suppliers, and not only from Eskom.
These are steps that can be immediately implemented. Join me in demanding this from our government. Make your voice heard and be part of the solution. Because if we don’t stand together on this, we risk losing everything.