South Africa

SONA 2023

‘Dangerous and mad’ – Not everyone’s sold on Ramaphosa’s electricity minister and another State of Disaster

‘Dangerous and mad’ – Not everyone’s sold on Ramaphosa’s electricity minister and another State of Disaster
President Cyril Ramaphosa prior to delivering the State of the Nation Address in the City Hall, Cape Town on 9 February 2023. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan )

President Cyril Ramaphosa had barely completed his State of the Nation Address when the DA announced it was going to court over the declared National State of Disaster on energy. The presidential speech to underscore his administration is at work to fix the economy left the opposition unconvinced.

An electricity National State of Disaster was what the governing ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) lekgotla had resolved in late January. 

As its statement about that meeting said: “In solving the energy crisis, the NEC Lekgotla encouraged the President of the Republic to declare a National State of Disaster, which will also require that the ANC reconnects with our communities and society.” 

When a National State of Disaster was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) speech on Thursday, which talked about how “in a time of crisis, we need a single point of command and a single line of march”, the opposition benches burst into heckling. 

And even before Ramaphosa concluded his 8,210-word speech, the DA had briefed its lawyers. 

A National State of Disaster under the guise of dealing with the load shedding crisis will similarly empower the ANC to abuse procurement processes and issue nonsensical regulations that have nothing to do with the electricity crisis. The DA will not sit back and allow the ANC to abuse the electricity disaster it created to loot and further abuse the people of South Africa,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a statement. 

The possible declaration of the electricity State of Disaster had raised concern across business and civil society, given the extent of tender and procurement corruption in the two-year Covid-19 State of Disaster and lockdown. 

Questions were also raised over what a State of Disaster would contribute towards resolving South Africa’s energy crisis, given the availability of existing legislative routes for emergency funding and procurement regulatory relief.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “The mooted National State of Disaster – ANC desperation or cynical public relations exercise?” 

The ANC, however, welcomed the declaration of the State of Disaster in a “decisive” Sona. 

“The President has made it clear that with the challenges the country faces, it cannot be business as usual… This State of the Nation Address is about seeing hope where there is despair. It is about showing a way out of these crises,” said ANC national spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri. 

And ANC alliance partner, the labour federation Cosatu, was upbeat, with a drop of caution. While the State of Disaster should be used to provide Eskom with all the necessary support, it said in a statement, the Budget later this month needed “to finalise the details of reducing the Eskom debt by 50% and also empower the government to deal with the coal cartels that are hobbling the power utility with their corrupt tendencies”. 

And that also applied to other Sona pledges, according to Cosatu: “What the Sona said is useful only if the Budget funds it.” 


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‘Undermining the rights of citizens’

Business Leadership SA (BLSA) was cautious, describing the State of Disaster as “concerning in the context of the overreach and undermining of citizens’ rights that occurred during the Covid-19 State of Disaster”, and the corruption in pandemic-related tenders. It seems the role of the Auditor-General to prevent a repeat is taken on guardedly. 

“[The] BLSA believes that many of the above measures could be implemented effectively without a State of Disaster,” it said. 

Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto put it more directly, saying: “new centralised powers and routes for corruption” would have to be watched for when State of Disaster regulations are gazetted. 

“The State of Disaster is dangerous and the new minister of electricity is mad and will create more confusion. The State of Disaster was unnecessary, against legal advice and against wishes of civil servants.” 

The ANC may have applauded Ramaphosa’s announcement of a minister of electricity, but opposition parties dismissed this. If rails don’t work, would a minister of rails be announced? was the question. Ditto, a minister of pit latrines or minister of potholes. 

But the ministers in the Presidency and of mineral resources and energy welcomed the Cabinet addition. 

“This minister is almost like a project manager of the crisis. That is the correct approach,” Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told the SABC in a televised interview immediately after the Sona. 

Creating a new ministry is, of course, also a neat governance sleight of hand to solve a political conundrum. 

Mantashe was a key mover behind Ramaphosa firstly not resigning in the wake of the recommendation for an impeachment inquiry over the Phala Phala forex scandal, and then at the December 2022 ANC elective conference. 

Coal fundamentalism

But Mantashe’s widely perceived pro-coal stance — his critics talk of his coal fundamentalism — meant shifting Eskom into his portfolio as per the ANC conference resolution would have troubled sectors across business, academia, engineering and other professions. 

Similarly, ditching Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who has been among Ramaphosa’s most loyal supporters, would have been tricky. 

No names were mentioned as to who this minister of electricity could be. Nor were timeframes given on when that announcement — and a Cabinet reshuffle — would happen. 

What was said was that over the next three years the Presidency and National Treasury would figure out how to restructure and rationalise government. In many ways that would end the Ramaphosa presidency how it started — with the reconfiguration of the state, a priority he raised in his first speech as president in February 2018. 

Putting the Presidency and National Treasury in charge rather than Public Service and Administration as was initially the case effectively continues their cooperation already established in Operation Vulindlela in October 2020.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Ramaphosa moves to tame structure and size of public service” 

And it continues the concentration of power in the Presidency, with the minister of electricity joining State Security and the ministers of women and the Presidency alongside various structures on climate change, red-tape cutting, Presidential Employment Stimulus, infrastructure investment and more.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “South Africa a step closer to a super Presidency after Ramaphosa’s master class in consolidating power” 

Crucially, Thursday’s Sona came after a PR build-up of various brochures outlining how 2022 Sona commitments were met, the achievements of getting young people into job opportunities under the Presidential Employment Stimulus and how the justice, peace and security cluster had contributed to better prosecutions, anti-corruption and pro-whistle-blower steps, and more. 

Clearly aimed as a Sona to show his administration at work, Ramaphosa talked about roads, dams, bridges being built, and moves to ensure effective ports and rails for goods and passengers. The monthly R350 Social Relief of Distress grant is again extended — details would be announced in the Budget alongside the Covid-19 small business bounce-back loan scheme rejigged for protection against rolling blackouts. 

But as Ramaphosa invoked South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, as part of his call to everyone to do their bit for South Africa — in stark contrast was the unprecedented presence of armed balaclava-wearing security forces on the floor of the House. 

Called in by the National Assembly Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, an ex-defence minister, in terms of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act at the end of a rough and raucous 45 minutes of EFF disruption, it reflects not the social compacting call to action to resolve South Africa’s problems, but a picture of securitisation and the protection of elites. 

And that’s something to watch out for in South Africa’s constitutional democracy. DM

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  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    Ramaphosa and the ANC have finally realised what we have understood for a long time – their governance, corruption and incompetence have turned South Africa into a State of Disaster.

    • Steve Rogers says:

      True

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      No. They do not realise anything at all! They are as ignorant and in denial of any wrongdoing as they have been for the past 100 years of their existence. The only thing that is realised by the anc is that they must feed at the trough while they can for as long as they can. To hell with SA and ‘their’ people!

  • virginia crawford says:

    Cadre deployment plus corruption has caused Eskom ‘s collapse. And now the same lot are going to fix it? All I hear is trotters rushing for the latest trough.

  • William Kelly says:

    What do you mean watch out for? It has already happened, in plain sight, and is so far advanced now it is unlikely to ever be undone. The elites are here to stay, they will feed at will and if you attempt to cross them you will be taken out.

    • Concerned Citizen says:

      And that is what the cosying up to and support of Russia is all about. Support from another criminal oligarchy to stay in power. The ANC knows it will lose in fair elections in 2024 and there is no way it will give up access to the feeding trough. Expect the 2024 elections to be as free and fair as Zimbabwe’s. And expect democracy to be under attack by the ANC.

  • jacki watts says:

    Frightening… When solutions are readily available… And now we will have the power ships for the next 20 years.. Who cares about the environment?!

    • Deon Botha-Richards says:

      Those powerships have been deployed in many part of the world. Thus far there is no evidence of any environmental damage. That’s an objection sucked out of thin air and based on pure assumption.

      However, the proposed contract term and the proposed price are hugely problematic. We should deploy them for 3 years to counter the emergency whereafter the other capacity being implemented can come on stream. And we should pay no more than Lebanon paid.

  • Peter Doble says:

    We don’t need a state of disaster to know that the nation is in a disastrous state. And who caused that? If this farcical pantomime of hypocrisy and doublespeak did not affect the lives and futures of every person in this country, there would be tears of laughter.
    As the historian Lord Acton is quoted: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But no doubt that’s another reason to blame the empire building colonialists.

  • A Green says:

    Here’s a hope – Andre de Ruyter to be minister of electricity and provide him with the political cover he has been waiting too many years for to implement the many reforms he has planned. Maybe more of a dream.

  • Alwyn Barnes says:

    “This minister is almost like a project manager of the crisis. That is the correct approach,” says Gwede!
    Yeah, much like Lindiwe handled the Tottenham debacle! Hands on, right!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Old wine in old bottles.

  • Cynthia Hilton says:

    How convenient to announce a State of Disaster now with Russia and China on their way to South Africa (Host Country) supposedly as part of a military exercise.
    I certainly do not believe the reason given for such a drastic step and cannot see how it is going to improve anything.

  • hohnecl says:

    Wake up. CR and the anc is slowly moving towards employing the same model of government as Putin.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Why are we all pretending that there is any hope for any SOE, Municipality, plan, program, investigation, judicial outcome, safety and security, services….in fact almost anything that used to work and no longer does???

    • andrea96 says:

      CR to hohnecl: You say that as if it is a bad thing…..:)

  • Rob Wilson says:

    It is acknowledged that existing solar installations have averted at least one load shedding stage. Municipalities, even well run ones are feeling the losses as they lose their cut of electricity sales revenue. This is going to accelerate that process until there are very few paying customers left for Eskom, and natural collapse will be upon it. Where did the customers go?

  • sunsingh0123 says:

    When detritus is disgorged by the ruling elite , it is the populace that drowns in it.

  • Tebogo Phakwe Phakwe says:

    If I would turn Cereal Rama into a vegetable, it would be diffucult for me to decide what to turn him into, a cabbage or an onion. Boy, the man can surround himself with layers and layers of people. By the end of his term every crisis will have a minister, a DG and a council. On the electricity front maybe if he could appoint Zeus, Thor or Black Lightning as minister of electricity then our problems would be solved.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Eskom continued to be well-run and managed until the year 2001 when Thabo Mbeki began the rot.

    He believed that Eskom was strong enough to take on incompetent, cadre-deployed, BEE, grossly overpaid imbeciles, so the entire senior management and Board where replaced – at a multiple of the previous salaries – and so began the delusion, the looting, the rot and the empty, vastly over-indebted hulk that Eskom has become. Chancellor Hose “the investment arm”of the ANC were appointed to undertake the tricky, complex boiler contracts, and despite “cost overruns”running into hundreds of billions, do not work, will never work at anything even close to design specification, and have become the ANC communist millstone around the neck of all South Africans.

    The rot of course significantly accelerated under the reign of Jacob Zuma who gave free reign to all the cadre to loot and pillage and the supine, totally ineffectual – lets have another Commission, Ramaphosa – has been unable to right the ship because he knows, but is unable to so act, that the real culprit is the ANC itself, and he, like all the “beloved ANC”, place the ANC above the constitution, above the best interests of the people and against all levels of sanity, as sacrosanct, and something that must be held together.

    Hence the boot-licking of Putin, the embrace of China – and the death of a very benighted country.

    • Richard Thompson says:

      Free rein, not free reign. Free rein as in a horse’s reins, not reign as in what the king does.

      • Jon Quirk says:

        Richard, reign, as a word, was deliberately chosen and repeated to emphasise the “Kingly/Emperor” status that he imposed on himself and that most in the ANC willingly endorsed – a return to an almost feudal status, until some, sadly far too few, woke up and saw he had no clothes. Much can be said in one word.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    And a centralisation of power

  • GPJ GPJ says:

    It is impossible to solve a problem with the same thinking that created it in the first place…

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Beyond speech to the point of desperation. The sheer blatant cynicism of it all. Not for one second could anyone believe a state of disaster is going to do anything other than provide yet another opportunity to loot what little is left.
    Let us all support the call for an early election. Nothing else will stop this rot.

    • Keith Brown says:

      Why an early election? Who could provide the hope of an alternative government? The squabbling, fractured entities making a hash of local government???

  • Sam Shu says:

    Electricity has been an issue for 15 years and, not nothing was sone about it – it was aggravated through theft and incompetence. What does a state of emergency do that enables action that hasn’t been taken – except to facilitate theft and graft. It might be that the thinking is to “empower” the minister in the presidency in CR’s kitchen cabinet to steam roll Gwede and the other ministers but i cannot see how this happens if it has not been possible.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    I am glad that this article makes little or no reference to the pre-SONA EFF publicity stunt. A few years back, there wash a rash of individual streakers at rugby internationals. The television companies came to some sort of agreement that when these streakers made their entrance, the camera would ignore them and turn their lenses elsewhere. The streaking tendency has virtually disappeared.
    The EFF, which is becoming the juvenile wing of the RET faction, survives on the attention that the media give to them. Thank you Marianne for concentrating on matters of substance and ignoring the trivia.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The state of national disaster was declared as a result of crisis created by the ANC through state capture and an extractive BEE that is at the centre of destruction of SOEs. The state of national disaster was declared to deflect focus on the ANC as a central body responsible for the mess by creating a diversion that it is doing something or something is being done. The second important reason is a false notion that the state of national disaster would be able to shield Eskom from litigation by broilers for losses and damages and other businesses. The Eskom crisis is not a natural disaster but has been created by the very pANC who failed to deal with it and now call it a disaster including the current President who made the declaration last night. It was none other than Mantashe who explained that Minister of Electricity is just an elevated project manager who will be running from one power station to the other as a junior minister with less frills. What came as a surprise was when Eskom was asked for comment is when they said they are still studying the gazette to understand what the state of disaster means for them! The experience of states of national disaster raises a list of questions besides the elections and legal claims. The ANC refused to have an oversight committee for the Covid state of national disaster and the charge was led by no less that Tsenoli, Deputy Speaker. KZN floods disaster audit has victims in limbo and no body accountable for the mess the AG found.

  • Gerhard Swiegers says:

    The ANC’s thinking is fundamentally wrong. The thought that any politician, let alone the ANC, can solve the issues at Eskom is totally misplaced. It the political meddling in the decision making that brought Eskom into the state it is. Their only role should be to appoint a competent Board with a competent Chairperson. It is the Board’s role to appoint the CEO who reports back to the Board. The ANC has no role in the latter process and should not get involved in the day to day running of Eskom. The new minister of Electricity should be paid to twiddle his or her fingers. If not, who will be the boss? The Minister or the CEO? If the former, nobody in their right mind will take the job. The ANC accepts resonsibility for something they are not capable of doing nor should they do it.

    They should ensure that the security apparatus look after the supply chain of Eskom and any other business for that matter, and eradicate corruption. No State of Disaster is requirement. It is a simple duty of Government.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      Eskom ought to have its own security as a National Key Point not the extractive BEE security that underpays its staff even without benefits leading them to be very corrupt themselves. The company ought to have systems that are functional in terms of its entire operation that could deal with faults as a result of real breakdowns or sabotage. That there are many BEE groups between suppliers and Eskom is criminality on its own. A mechanism to coordinate Cabinet Ministers that are linked to Eskom ought to be in place as a matter of course not to appoint a project manager elevated as junior Minister. The question that arises what would be the function of the board, the CEO and the entire executive if there is a Project manager sitting in Union Buildings? Where are the articles on incorporation of Eskom when there is a vandal outside going from one power station to the other according to Mantashe? To whom would power stations managers be reporting? Cyril has a capacity to add confusion over a crisis if people are not careful. We are very clear why the decision was necessary to be taken by the ANC in the light of the silly season of elections to create an impression that they are doing something abouth the crisis.

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    It’s a disaster, simple as that. NDZ’s pandemic obfuscations have not yet been brought to light, the incumbent fighting legal process with hook & claw, and now, she’s in charge again? More looting and plundering on the horizon, how much more must the constituents endure in the face of a crisis of ineptitude? A power minister to be appointed, only to be rendered powerless by a state of disaster? Please explain to me, like you would to a child, how this can possibly make sense? And how, this farcical orchestration will resolve the power crises? TY

  • Margaret Harris says:

    It appears that the management of Eskom will have to read the Government Gazette before they are able to comment on the proposed changes in the management of electrical supply. Does that mean that the top management of Eskom was completely excluded from the plan?
    Considering that we would not be in this mess if the ANC had kept it’s hands off both the management and the coffers how can we expect that any plan they formulate will result in an improved outcome.
    With whom did they consult in the design of the ‘New Plan?’
    Hold onto your wallets. No doubt we will end up a bit older and deeper in debt and darkness.

  • Rob Martin says:

    So the last few years I’ve voted DA, and probably will the next election; however Steenhuisen has to go! Last night’s wining and disrupting shows his lack of decorum and intelligence to read a situation. Please DA get rid of this embarrassment.

    • Nic Campbell says:

      Spot on. He’s a childish moron. Surely they have someone competent to lead them!

    • Carsten Rasch says:

      The man is simply not what the situation requires. He has to go. But the DA has as little vision of the future as the ANC.

      • virginia crawford says:

        Agree: such an unattractive and charmless man. Very off-putting.

      • Karl Sittlinger says:

        “But the DA has as little vision of the future as the ANC.”

        There are literally worlds between any performance metric of the ANC and the DA, including their “visions”. Not liking someone like Steenhuisen (which I can understand, I dont like him either) is not the same as collapsing our economy. The policies the DA has brought forward and are implementing are working in order of magnitudes better that yje last 25 years of fumbling by the ANC, there is absolutely no question about that.
        Most issues faced by the DA and their policies are frustrated by national ANC policies. Come on, lets be honest about the criticism of the DA. I would take the DAs vision of our future any day over anything any other party in SA can offer. Don’t need to like JS or HZ for that.

    • Robert Dempster Dempster says:

      My thoughts too, but I am concerned about the possibility of a coalition government when the ANC loses its majority in 2024. There isn’t a single opposition party that can govern and coalitions have failed in the big metros. DA has lost credibility, Steenhuisen must go, but who can replace him? My vote in national elections may be a strategic vote for ANC to avoid the chaos of a coalition government. Opposition parties must consolidate to create a viable alternative.

      • William Stucke says:

        Oh, my goodness, don’t do that, Robert!

        A vote for the ANC is totally wasted. They don’t have a hope in hell of either any sort of c0omeback, or of redeeming themselves.

        A vote for anyone other than the DA simply mires us in the disaster of one seat parties playing games with our lives. What we need is a strong capable opposition party. At present, the DA is the only alternative. Vote for them!

        Please.

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