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We’re not in November any more: Steenhuisen goes to court to stop State of Disaster despite previous support

We’re not in November any more: Steenhuisen goes to court to stop State of Disaster despite previous support
From left: DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Thierry Monasse / Getty Images)

The DA has done an about-turn on its position on the National State of Disaster, announcing it will challenge it in court, after calling for one to be declared. Meanwhile, resistance to the State of Disaster is mounting, with Numsa announcing a legal bid on Monday, seeking to interdict the government’s decision.

The DA is heading to court to challenge the declaration of an electricity National State of Disaster, after previously pushing for President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare one to deal with the energy crisis at Eskom.

The President announced the electricity State of Disaster to deal with the load shedding crisis in his State of the Nation Address last week.

His announcement followed calls for the crisis to be declared a National State of Disaster by several roleplayers, including traditional leaders and community-based organisations, and was further aired at the ANC’s lekgotla in January.  

Before Ramaphosa concluded his speech, the DA had already briefed its legal team to challenge the decision in court.

“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 a statement released by DA leader John Steenhuisen.

He said the DA was already in court with its case launched in 2021 to declare the Disaster Management Act unconstitutional, and would now do the same to prevent an “ANC looting frenzy” that would follow Ramaphosa’s declaration of an energy State of Disaster.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: “ ‘Dangerous and mad’ – Not everyone’s sold on Ramaphosa’s electricity minister and another State of Disaster” 

Contradiction?

But a November 2022 address by Steenhuisen seems to contradict his current position. On 23 November, Steenhuisen called on Ramaphosa to “declare a ring-fenced State of Disaster around Eskom.

“This should have been done months ago, when he presented his Energy Response Plan, and his refusal then to concede the urgency and scale of the disaster has now left our grid on the brink of collapse,” Steenhuisen said.

The November 2022 statement continues: “This State of Disaster needs to be declared right away so that disaster relief funding can be reprioritised in order to keep the open-cycle turbines running in the immediate term. But more importantly, a State of Disaster will allow the government to bypass its own self-imposed obstacles, bottlenecks and cost inflations in the form of unworkable labour legislation, localisation requirements, cadre deployment and preferential procurement.”

However, the DA’s shadow minister for cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta), Cilliers Brink, insisted that the positions were not contradictory.

“What the DA has called for is a ring-fenced set of interventions at Eskom, not for a National State of Disaster under which the government can exercise wide-ranging powers that have nothing to do with Eskom,” he said.

Brink added that a State of Disaster was not tailored to deal with specific challenges at Eskom, but “gives the Cogta minister and other ministers wide-ranging powers to make laws without parliamentary supervision”.

He argued that it would be better to bring a set of disaster measures to Parliament that deal specifically with the situation at Eskom, as allowed for under section 44(2) of the Constitution.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

In a statement on Sunday, Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said the President had responded boldly to the energy crisis, in terms of capacity to resolve the challenges through the appointment of a Minister of Electricity in the Presidency and through the State of Disaster declaration. 

Magwenya said this was not the time for “finger-pointing or politically motivated court actions”.

“In consultations with business, labour, interfaith leaders, community organisations and the presidential coordinating council, President Ramaphosa was urged to take bold measures that will effectively deal with the current electricity crisis.

“Some of those calls were specific to the declaration of the State of Disaster, particularly from [Western Cape] Premier Alan Winde and [Cape Town] Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, who are both senior DA leaders,” said Magwenya.

Last month, Winde wrote to Ramaphosa, requesting that a State of Disaster be declared, as had Steenhuisen on 23 November last year.

Winde wrote: “Existing legislation and contingency arrangements do not, in our view, adequately provide for the national executive to deal effectively with the disaster.

“It follows that a National State of Disaster ought to be declared to allow relevant ministers to issue regulations and directions to supplement and enhance the existing legislative framework by, for example, putting measures in place to expedite independent power production, support municipalities in combating the effects of the crisis on basic service delivery, and decisively deal with corruption, infrastructure theft, sabotage and other criminal offences.”

Fears of looting spree

The possible declaration of the electricity State of Disaster had caused concern among business and civil society roleplayers, who feared that it could lead to a looting spree, similar to the tender and procurement corruption that occurred under the Covid-19 State of Disaster.

An energy State of Disaster was previously backed by the Freedom Front Plus, who advocated for it as long as it was coupled with strict parliamentary oversight. However, the party has since condemned the fact that Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will be in charge of the disaster regulations.

Magwenya responded: “Over and above the Auditor-General keeping a close eye on various processes as they roll out, the President expects law enforcement agencies to be vigilant and to act with speed in dealing with those who will seek to take advantage of the situation.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: State of Disaster must be clearly defined and subject to transparent parliamentary oversight, say political parties 

The EFF, on the other hand, has remained consistently against a National State of Disaster to deal with the load shedding crisis — saying the move was not a silver bullet.

Civil society legal bids

Meanwhile, trade unions Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), have separately announced that they will launch legal action against the National State of Disaster.  

Following the President’s State of the Nation Address, Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann called the State of Disaster “irrational and unnecessary” leaving Solidarity with no option but to litigate.  

“Poor central control landed us in this crisis. Such poor control in even more measures will not get us out of the crisis. Everything the President announced in the State of the Nation Address can already be implemented by using existing legislation,” he said in a statement.

Hermann said the trade union’s legal team had already begun preparing urgent court documents, which would be served on the government in the coming days.

Last month, Numsa filed court papers at the Pretoria High Court to demand that the government stop cutting the country’s power. Other applicants in the matter included the United Democratic Movement, Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union, Build One South Africa, the IFP, South African Federation of Trade Unions, Democracy in Action and ActionSA.

The group contends that the manner in which the government has responded to the load shedding crisis is unconstitutional. They also seek to hold the President to account for the “human cost of load shedding”. 

The matter is scheduled to be heard in the Pretoria High Court from 20 to 24 March.

In addition to this multiparty legal bid, Numsa’s national spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, confirmed to Daily Maverick on Monday that the trade union would file a separate application to interdict the declaration of a National State of Disaster. DM

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  • R S says:

    Are people really not good at listening? Every news article I’ve read leads with the “contradictory” stance of the DA that is not even contradictory. They said they wanted a state of disaster around Eskom, this is the same state of disaster that’s been declared around Durban and other areas that were affected by the floods last year and that sees them getting lower levels of load shedding.

    It really isn’t that hard to understand.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Unfortunately it tends to be in the DM whenever it concerns the DA.

      • Glyn Morgan says:

        The media are after headlines rather than the truth. The DA was asking for a state of disaster covering only the electricity problem. The media assume the worst.

        • Steve Davidson says:

          Luckily Glyn, the proof is always in the pudding and all you need to do is take a drive from Cape Town to, say, Natal (sorry, although I lived there for 24 years I refuse to call it KZN any more after what Zuma and his crooked friends have done to it!) and see what those ANC thieves have done, to realise what a great job the DA have done down here, especially considering the pressure they are under to deal with, particularly, the continuing inflow of economic refugees from the Eastern Cape, running away from the ANC’s disastrous rule. It’s actually good to see Steenhuisen starting to point this out a little more in the run up to next year’s election. It’s also very irritating to see some of the DM’s writers conveniently ignoring this, but attacking them at every opportunity.

    • Peter Slingsby says:

      Rowan G is quite correct – you got it all wrong, Victoria. Why do you persist in making things easier for the utterly corrupt, incompetent ANC?

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      When it comes to the DA, some at DM simply don’t want to understand anything that doesn’t fit in current world view.

    • Alan Watkins says:

      Another difference between the LIMITED RINGFENCED state of disaster around Esom vs the National state of disaster declared by the ANC is that the DA would have implemented the LIMITED RINGFENCED (oh dear do I really have to emphasise the difference again and again) state of disaster around Eskom with the best of intentions and likely the best of outcomes whereas the ANC government will implement the state of disaster with the worst of intentions and almost definitely the worst of outcomes.

  • William Stucke says:

    Hmm. Tricky.

    The ANC Government has tied itself into a knot with its idiotic procurement, BEE and AA Regulations. Those, together with Cadre Deployment and Soviet-style Central Planning have landed us in this mess. It needs a way out.

    Some sort of State of Emergency that allows it to ignore its own silly legislation is required to sort out Eskom. However, anything under the thumb of Ma Zuma, and anything on a national scale, is totally unfit for purpose. It needs to be very specifically targeted at Eskom, and avoid any general looting opportunities.

    As Zapiro said on 2023-02-10: Say What? “The guys who spent 30 years bring the power grid to a state of disaster have declared a state of disaster to fix the state of disaster?”

    Squirrel, think again, Boytjie.

    • Greg de Bruyn says:

      This is pretty much on point. The government’s obsession with rules, procedures and policies blinds it to the realities of life. It’s tangled itself up in a web that prevents any meaningful action and now the only way out is another set of rules to circumvent the rules. SOD or not, the vultures are circling and will pick the bones clean.
      As a reluctant DA sympathiser (in the absence of any party I could support in good conscience), I think their backtracking here is shedding credibility fast and they should have thought it through properly.

      • Willem Boshoff says:

        they’re not backtracking, their position has always been a ring-fenced state of disaster with increased parliamentary oversight. the reporting on this in the media is very disappointing.

  • Heinrich Heiriss says:

    This article is misleading. A ringfenced state of disaster and a national state of disaster are certainly not the same things. I’m a bit disappointed DM.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Perhaps Steenhuizen should have been more clear on what he is protesting. What’s wrong with saying ‘we insisted on a limited SoD, not a wide-ranging national one’?

  • R IA says:

    I was just starting to change my mind about Daily Maverick being biased against the DA. Seems I’ll have to revert back to square one. What a pity.

  • Catherine Bell says:

    Victoria O’Regan at best this is disingenuous but more like plain dishonest. The DA never called for a national state of disaster, it called for one ring fenced around Eskom. This article brings the Daily Maverick into disrepute.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Stop the lazy, biased reporting against the DA already DM! We expect better from you! The headline is nothing short of gaslighting – the DA never called for or supported a national state of disaster. Pay attention to the detail.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Like News24 the DM is scared to actually praise the DA for anything otherwise they would lose their “liberal” credentials. I live in Cape Town let me tell you this city runs better than any UK city. If I report an issue it’s addressed within 48 hours often 24 hours, how’s JHB or Durban doing on that front?

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Very well said Chris. Having come back from a three year sojourn in England just before covid hit, I can support you to the hilt. And it’s not just cities, it’s the counties (ie provinces) as well. I had to replace a main front spring on my 5 year old, very rarely driven long distance car, because of – wait for it – potholes! The foreman at the garage said that where in the past they might replace one car’s springs a month, they were doing five or six. He blamed it directly on poor road maintenance (and we’re talking about secondary roads, not backstreets!).

      I totally back what you’re saying: in the circumstances we are living in down here in the Cape we have an incredible team of people doing an outstanding job.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Very well said Chris. Having come back from a three year sojourn in England just before covid hit, I can support you to the hilt. And it’s not just cities, it’s the counties (ie provinces) as well. I had to replace a main front spring on my 5 year old, very rarely driven long distance car, because of – wait for it – potholes! The foreman at the garage said that where in the past they might replace one car’s springs a month, they were doing five or six. He blamed it directly on poor road maintenance (and we’re talking about secondary roads, not backstreets!).

      I totally back what you’re saying: in the circumstances we are living in down here in the Cape we have an incredible team of people doing an outstanding job.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    More of the same. Ramaphosa makes promises he won’t keep (remember his putting his head on a block that there would be no procurement corruption during covid?) and Steenhuizen litigates every action taken by the ANC. What more do you need if you are a lawyer, particularly an ANC connected lawyer?? What else can we get, and from where, if we are ordinary South Africans suffering the absolute drought of good leadership in South Africa??

  • Johan Buys says:

    Numsa wants an end to loadshedding. They should perhaps go talk to their comrades in Eskom that break units faster than they can be fixed.

  • Deon Irish says:

    This is a blantantly misleading article and the DM should be ashamed of allowing its journalism to sink to this level.
    An analogy: A local civic organization calls for the introduction of a 40kph speed limit in a certain popular tourist area, to deal with heightened danger to pedestrian traffic from speeding vehicles. The municipality responds by imposing a 40kph speed limit throughout the entire city. The civic organization objects to this unreasonable response and decides to challenge it in court.
    Your biased reporter would presumably seize the opportunity to accuse the organization of making an “about turn”.
    Pathetic.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Now that flooding and heavy rain – aided and abetted of course by the usual scourge of no maintenance on infrastructure like storm drains – have again resulted in a State of Emergency – who will be appointed Minister of Rains? Canute perhaps?

  • Roger Ress says:

    The only state of disaster in South Africa is the ANC with it’s lame – duck president. It’s so sad that after the 2024 elections we’ll be stuck with them because their supporters are largely uninformed and don’t read the DM. So their knee-jerk response will be to vote for the party that liberated them, even though it’s now the one that’s imprisoning them.

  • Mariella Norman says:

    A very misleading sound bite headline which will be repeated by those who only read headlines and don’t bother to read the article. How do you intend retrieving the deliberate misinformation now being spread and used to discredit the democratically elected opposition? Feathers shaken out of a pillow now blowing in the wind, Victoria. We need journalism that informs, not mis-informs with spin.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    What the author ought to have done is to wait for responses to the SONA by all political parties to grasp the reasons for the DA getting to court. We have had the DA requesting oversight for Covid that some of us considered reasonable that was declined by the Deputy Speaker and the ANC. We had the DA proposing an amendment to the Disaster Management Act to deal with section 27 and the draconian measures experienced during the Covid lockdown and the ANC rejected this and some of us considered the proposals to be reasonable because the Covid state of national disaster produced tinpot dictators with all sort of rubbish including the alcohol and tobacco bans to provide fertile ground for illicit cigarettes and alcohol that benefited some in the leadership of the ANC.
    The DA leader made a request to meet the President that was ignored by the President but instead called a meeting with opposition parties that the DA refused to attend and those who attended completely disagreed with the President. The author does not take into account this backdrop which is important for the public to have to be able to make informed decisions on whether the DA is unreasonable. I hold no brief for the DA but their position has been made untenable by the ANC refusal to amend the Act and the President rejecting to meet the DA. Whether going to court is the correct route ought to be the question but given the concerns of accountability to parliament and the past experience of corruption they are right.

  • L Dennis says:

    Totally agree with comment of Roman g and others. Wow to you who call evil good and good evil. What a disgrace and yes completely misleading. I again want to applaud the DA for their servant leadership getting things done for the betterment of all people in South Africa. God bless our beautiful country and bind those that are hasty to commit evil.

  • Roger Lee says:

    It is sad – the DM is doing a great job and yet, they appear
    to have something against the DA and never seem to miss an opportunity to show it in a bad light. Comment from DM please?

  • Mike Silber says:

    I don’t understand the vitriol against the DM or the author.
    When last I checked – there is no mechanism in the Disaster Management Act for a ring-fenced state of disaster. The DMA allows for the declaration of national, provincial or municipal states of disaster and does not provide for the declaration of a state of disaster relating to a specific utility or organ of state.
    As such the protests regarding the initial call by some politicians as being “ring-fenced” are totally nonsensical and would have been ultra vires the DMA.
    I am not sure that the current declaration of a state of disaster is valid either – but the contradiction and (dare I say it, hypocrisy) of calling for something that is most likely ultra vires .. and then opposing a similar (but admittedly not identical thing) which is also likely to be ultra vires – is startling.
    Maybe the commentariat would engage with that instead of criticizing the author or the publication for perceived bias!

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