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GROUNDUP: SONA 2023

‘A state of destruction’ — activists gather before President’s address to demand an end to rolling blackouts

‘A state of destruction’ — activists gather before President’s address to demand an end to rolling blackouts
Activists are demanding an end to Eskom’s rolling blackouts and the devastating impact it is having on daily life. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

They also demanded that the department of mineral resources allows Eskom to procure wholesale diesel to decrease rolling blackouts, that the government, businesses and individuals be held accountable for destroying Eskom, and that the proposed electricity tariff increase be scrapped.

Hundreds of people affiliated with civil society groups gathered in Hanover Street in Cape Town’s city centre ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday. The activists were demanding an end to Eskom’s rolling blackouts, which are having a devastating impact on daily life. The gathering was facilitated by #UniteBehind. 

“We have gathered together because of our pain, suffering, anger and fear at the destruction of Eskom over more than two decades. We refuse to accept this anymore,” the groups said, in a joint statement addressed to Ramaphosa.

“Eskom is in a severe crisis,” the statement read. “Load shedding is destroying our country. The estimated cost to our country is R4-billion per day.”

The impact of power outages is “much worse” for the poor and working class. Prolonged rolling blackouts are often life-threatening due to increased criminality, fires caused by the candles and paraffin stoves used during power outages, and the loss of income for small businesses forced to close because of rolling blackouts, said the groups.

They also demanded that the department of mineral resources allows Eskom to procure wholesale diesel to decrease rolling blackouts, that the government, businesses and individuals be held accountable for destroying Eskom, and that the proposed electricity tariff increase be scrapped. 

state of destruction

The SA Alcohol and Policy Alliance wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to introduce evidence-based policies that regulate the sale of alcohol, especially to minors. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

The SA Alcohol and Policy Alliance wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to introduce evidence-based policies that regulate the sale of alcohol, especially to minors. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Addressing the crowd on Thursday, #UniteBehind director Zackie Achmat said, “I wish we could say we could fix Eskom. But the truth is that it’s so broken and destroyed. Today we don’t have a state of the nation, we have a state of destruction.”  

He said Parliament has until 1 March to respond to their demands. “If they don’t… we will go to court and we will march. We will not allow the police to stop us from marching as they did today,” he said.

Bridget Nkomana from the Back2Work Campaign said they hoped the President addressed social grants, particularly the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant, which “is not enough to put food on the table”. Nkomana said they were calling for a basic income grant of R1,500 for every unemployed person.

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Aadielah Maker Diedericks, secretary-general of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance, said Ramaphosa should introduce evidence-based policies that regulate the sale of alcohol. “We saw how during Covid when they restricted the sale of alcohol how less harm there was, especially in our hospital trauma centres.”

She said they also wanted Ramaphosa to address how the country plans to stop the sale of alcohol to minors.

Carmen Mannarino from the Masifundise Development Trust, which supports small-scale fishing communities, said it was vital for Ramaphosa to address the energy and food crisis. “We feel that not enough is done at governmental level to support food producers to feed this country.

“Fishing communities feel there is so much emphasis on extracting oil and gas from our coastline, instead of looking at real solutions to address the energy crisis in the long term.”

‘A country in crisis’

On Wednesday night, civil society groups met at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, as representatives of activist groups and the private sector discussed the “Real State of the Nation”.

state of destruction

Community groups also demanded more action be taken to prevent crime and killings in rural and farming communities. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

In a joint statement endorsed by more than 70 organisations, the groups in attendance at St George’s Cathedral said the Sona comes as South Africa faces rolling blackouts, the large-scale collapse of local government in various municipalities, corruption and State Capture, poor economic growth, and a broken passenger rail infrastructure system.

The groups also called for the government to fix the railway system, ensure that Prasa is protected from further corruption and called for more protection for whistle-blowers, among other issues. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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