South Africa

POWER CRISIS

Ramaphosa promises ‘fundamentally transformed’ energy system in Freedom Day address

Ramaphosa promises ‘fundamentally transformed’ energy system in Freedom Day address
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2023 National Freedom Day Celebrations at Manzilpark Stadium, Matlosana in North West. 27 April 2023. Photo: GCIS

Addressing a Freedom Day rally in North West province, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that celebrations seemed hollow without electricity – but pledged an improved energy system 'when we emerge from this crisis'.

“Freedom cannot be meaningful when South African homes and businesses are without electricity for several hours in the day.”

This was the acknowledgement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday, while addressing a Freedom Day rally in North West province.

His remarks came on the back of weeks of mixed messaging from the ANC government as to South Africa’s energy future, with electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa reportedly pushing to extend the life of coal-fired power plants in order to deal with ever-worsening winter blackouts.

This plan flies in the face of commitments South Africa has made to international partners to decommission coal stations and focus on renewable energy.

Ramaphosa appeared to be attempting to balance these conflicting plans in his Freedom Day address, by pledging to both “restore Eskom’s power stations” and “build new generating capacity as a matter of the greatest urgency”.

He said: “The benefits of the progress we have made are not yet felt – load shedding has not abated – but we will soon experience the impact of the unprecedented investment being made in power generation.”

Ramaphosa continued: “When we emerge from this crisis, our energy system will have been fundamentally transformed. It will be more stable, more reliable, more affordable, and more sustainable.”

Traditional stock-taking of Freedom Day gains

It has become traditional to use Freedom Day as an occasion on which to reflect on the progress made in South Africa since the first democratic election on 27 April 1994.  

A statement from the ANC on Thursday paid tribute to the democratic government’s “significant progress in the ongoing effort to expand access to a better life for all”, claiming: “Over the past 27 [sic] years, the lives of the people of South Africa have changed for the better”.

On the 29th anniversary of those historical polls, Ramaphosa struck a more muted tone, running through the customary list of gains – more protective labour laws, no-fee schools, school feeding schemes, social grants – but spent the bulk of his speech on noting the work that still has to be done.

“Our country has been hit by a global financial crisis; political, social and economic shocks; worsening natural disasters; and the most severe global pandemic in over a century,” the president said.

“We are also now counting the cost of years of under-investment in our electricity, water, rail and port infrastructure. We are feeling the damaging effects of State Capture and corruption and concerted efforts to weaken our public institutions.”

Ramaphosa claimed that “far-reaching reforms” are being undertaken to “make our economy more competitive, more inclusive, and more attractive to investors”,  in the hope of raising R2-trillion in new investment over the next five years.

South Africa should look at itself as a family

The president urged the population to “think of our country as a large South African family” – one with “quarrels, disagreements, and fights”, but which should “come together to sort out our differences and solve our problems”.

He also called on the country to “stand firm against the behaviour of those that want to destabilise the family”.

Such individuals include slacking public servants, residents who refuse to pay for basic services, those who pay bribes, and unscrupulous business people, Ramaphosa suggested.

“We must exercise our civic duty to ensure there is no place in this country for those who want to steal, loot and plunder.”

After all, the president stated: “Family is family”. DM

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