DA’s response to the electricity crisis

Let’s be clear about what has caused Stage 6 load-shedding. A small group of illegally striking workers is putting their own interests ahead of those of the nation by blocking work at Eskom until their demands for higher salaries are met.

Their actions are destroying jobs and businesses, scaring away investment, making communities more dangerous, causing huge inconvenience for people, destroying private appliances and public infrastructure, and impacting service delivery.

This unlawful strike action is especially unconscionable since Eskom has 41 000 employees yet needs fewer than 16 000 for the amount of power it currently generates, according to global norms. And these 41 000 workers already earn an average salary of around R700 000 per year excluding benefits, yet the call is for above inflation increases even as their actions plunge even more people into unemployment.

But make no mistake. This is just the straw breaking the camel’s back. The real problem is insufficient power supply due to failure to build new supply capacity, lack of maintenance, over-regulation of the energy sector, and lack of strategic planning, all at the hands of deployed cadres and socialist ideologues.

This has rendered South Africa’s electricity system terribly vulnerable. The threats feed off each other. The less supply we have, the easier it is for specific interest groups to use sabotage to get what they want. The more sabotage, the less supply we have.

DA’s plan to end load-shedding

It is incredibly frustrating being in opposition and seeing the country plunged into darkness and despair, knowing that solutions exist, knowing the situation calls for urgent action, knowing the human suffering and economic damage is avoidable.

The frustration is all the greater because the DA has been pointing out root-cause problems, issuing warnings, and offering solutions for many years now, most importantly calling for an open energy market and an end to cadre deployment. Crises like this don’t appear unheralded.

More recently we have put a plan on the table that charts South Africa’s quickest route out of the crisis and to reliable, cheaper, cleaner electricity.

Replace energy minister Gwede Mantashe with an individual who grasps the urgent need to open the energy market and act firmly against saboteurs.

Declare a state of disaster in the electricity sector and thereby suspend all bureaucratic obstacles blocking businesses, organisations, municipalities and households from producing, buying and/or selling energy.

We need to make it easy and attractive for independent power producers to bring new power to the grid at scale and in the shortest possible time. It is inconceivable that in this crisis, the state is blocking them from doing so with cumbersome, irrational regulations.

For example, government’s localization requirement for renewable energy projects demands that 30% of all inputs are sourced locally. When your house is burning and someone is offering to put out the fire, it makes no sense to delay action with a list of petty, irrational demands, like insisting that 30% of the water must come from a specific dam.

The social value of decentralizing our energy market cannot be overstated. It’s not just that private power production is currently our only route out of load-shedding. Decentralising and diversifying our energy sources also builds resilience and flexibility into the system, leaving us less vulnerable to future breakdowns or sabotage. Nature generates energy in this decentralized way and so should we.

The state of disaster should also be used to waive BEE requirements, so that Eskom can follow the most cost-efficient procurement processes to keep electricity prices as low as possible and processes as streamlined as possible.

Arrest, prosecute and fire those Eskom employees who break the law. The unreasonable demands of Eskom employees for even higher salaries should not prevail over the needs of the country and economy at large.

Far from tolerating unlawful behaviour and entertaining unreasonable demands, the state should be enabling a drastic reduction of Eskom’s wage bill, with serious consequences for those who seek to sabotage the system. It is deeply unfair to expect over 30 million South Africans living below the poverty line to sponsor inflated salaries for Eskom staff while enduring blackouts and joblessness.

Declare power stations and their immediate surroundings security zones. Deploy adequate law enforcement and arrest and prosecute trespassers.

Where the DA governs

A DA national government will act urgently and firmly to end load-shedding in the shortest possible time. We will not allow narrow interests to prevail over the common good. Meantime, DA governments are doing what they can to protect citizens from load-shedding.

In May, DA Mayor of Johannesburg Dr Mpho Phalatse convened a major energy indaba to start the process of bringing on board independent power producers. And on 1 July, her multi-party coalition’s budget for the 2022/23 financial year kicked in, beginning the rollout of a R1.6 billion capital investment to upgrade and stabilise the City’s power network to avert the possibility of further breakdowns caused by Eskom’s load-shedding.

Ekurhuleni’s DA-led multi-party coalition earlier this year appointed 47 private power producers to build and sell electricity direct to the city from 2024 onwards. To finance the replacement and expansion of backbone infrastructure at a rate of at least 10km of cables per year, the City has committed to a 40% increase in capital expenditure in the next financial year and an average 12% thereafter.

The DA-run City of Cape Town is using its Steenbras Hydro Electric System to protect City residents from two stages of load-shedding. It is also pushing as hard as it can to end the City’s reliance on Eskom. (The City also last week kicked off its feasibility study on taking over the management of passenger rail from National Government.)

The DA-run Western Cape Department of Health has installed back-up generators in most hospitals, sparing them from rolling blackouts. This means that quality healthcare can continue without interruption. Many lives literally rely on this.

In 2024, a DA-led national government will act urgently and firmly to end load-shedding within two years. We care deeply, and are determined to build a resilient, prosperous South Africa.