Eskom is dead. Give power to the people!

Speaker, Mr. President, fellow South Africans,

This debate takes place in the midst of a national electricity crisis, to which few in government will admit.

We sit in darkness for hours every day, despite ongoing promises from the President – the man who in 2014 was tasked to turnaround ESKOM and end loadshedding. It is tragic today to go back and read that News24 headline from December 2014: “Ramaphosa to oversee ESKOM, SAA turnaround.” Mr. President, the only turn these entities took under your watch, was from the emergency room to the funeral parlour.

Our mining sector – once the backbone of our economy – is floundering, because, among other things, it cannot get enough electricity. 5 years after that headline placing ESKOM and SAA under Mr. Ramaphosa, another headline from December 2019 – laid bare the truth: “SA mines shut operations because of ESKOM.”

Yet the ANC clings to Eskom and pretends it can be saved. South Africans know otherwise. ESKOM is dead. It is beyond redemption. And it is time that this government acknowledges this.

It is in this condition for one reason, and one reason only: the mismanagement, lack of planning and sheer corruption of the ANC and its cadres and cronies. Just as every viable state-owned entity has been hollowed out, plundered, and broken, so our nation’s entire electricity supply has been destroyed. 

While ANC government leaders live with generators, permanent security, and state housing, the people of this country go through hardship and pain as the lights go off every day. They walk on dark streets at the mercy of violent crime; rape, robbery, and murder. They cannot study. They cannot cook. Their businesses cannot operate. Their lives and livelihoods are literally being stolen.  

We had hoped that in this critical hour, President Ramaphosa would seize the opportunity last week to take ownership of the problem, deal decisively with ESKOM, and provide South Africa a path to a powered future. But the incapable state and its incapable President never take bold action. 

SONA was the last chance for the ANC to do the right thing and announce the immediate splitting and privatizing of ESKOM. What we got instead, were small changes, small concessions, small retreats – too little, too late – if they come to be at all. 

While bold action was lacking, the Democratic Alliance does welcome some of the commitments the president made about energy transformation. The question he must answer is: When? When will all this take place? Because all the president and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy will say is “soon”. 

The Democratic Alliance has long called on Minister Mantashe to sign the section 34 determinations which are gathering dust on his desk. The City of Cape Town is going ahead with a court action to force the issue, because he still hasn’t actually done anything, despite a lot of talks. 

We have repeatedly asked him to immediately open bid window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme. But whenever anyone speaks about renewable energy, in any context, Minister Mantashe accuses them of being a lobbyist. 

And just minutes after the President announced last Thursday that Bid Window 5 would open “soon”, Minister Mantashe backtracked on this commitment, saying “I’m not a fundamentalist about bid window 5” and that “we must be systematic and ensure that it is sustainable”. Given that the first four bid windows are regarded as best practices worldwide, it is surprising that the minister thinks the next needs more tweaking.

Encourage and incentivize residential self-generation. More and more South Africans are prepared to become self-reliant with regard to electricity generation. Instead of making things more difficult, let’s ease up on the regulatory environment and allow them to do so.

The DA stands firmly for every South African being allowed this freedom from ESKOM, and we won’t relent. In this regard, Schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act can be amended by the stroke of a pen. Go back to what parliament approved in the first place when the Act was originally adopted. 

When South Africa went to stage 6 load-shedding in December, the minister should have immediately sought to purchase excess power from the existing IPPs, who are constrained to only sell limited quantities to the grid, as determined by their licences and power purchase agreements. Currently, any excess power generated by IPPs goes to waste. The South African Wind Energy Association estimates that about 500MW is immediately available, at a cost of around 40 cents per KWh, and more could be forthcoming as new projects come online.

The Minerals Council of South Africa estimates that up to 1.7 GW of electricity could be produced for own use by mines in the next 4 years, something they have been begging for years. That simple move would encourage investment in our mining sector.

We can’t be talking about nuclear plants or Grand Inga when South Africa’s financial situation is so dire. We also can’t be looking five and ten years down the line. We need to look at how we can make ourselves less reliant on an archaic monopoly like ESKOM, and more energy secure right now!

Mr. President, open up the electricity market now! The private sector can deliver better, cheaper and more efficiently than ESKOM. The DA’s Independent Electricity Management Operator Bill is currently before parliament. This would create a separate, independent market operator to purchase electricity from all producers and make our electricity generation sector more competitive. We call on all parties in this House to support this.

We know that Minister Mantashe has been called a tiger in the bedroom, but he appears more like a grumpy old tomcat curled up next to his coal fireplace when it comes to his constitutional obligations. He is slow to act, reluctant to change the status quo, and absolutely unwilling to upset the unions who are his real masters. Just like the unions are ruling the roost at SAA, it seems the same is true at Eskom. But that’s what the ANC gets for being in bed with COSATU.

Most importantly, Mr. President, we cannot and must not throw pensioners’ life savings into ESKOM. This is just theft from the poor and the elderly to fund ESKOM corruption.

And, Mr. President, if Minister Mantashe is not willing to act NOW on your commitments regarding electricity generation, replace him with someone who will.

Our darkest days will not just be load-shedding if you do not act.