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POWER POLITICS

Upington residents say they were left in the dark about public hearing on Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill

Upington residents say they were left in the dark about public hearing on Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill
The public hearing into the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill gets under way in the Northern Cape. (Photo: Gilbert Moela)

Twenty-five people were signed up to speak during the public hearings in the Northern Cape, but few understood the contents of the bill and they emphasised that their municipal officials had failed them by not educating them about it. Some in attendance felt the public hearing was just a formality and box-ticking exercise since contributions from citizens were disregarded. 

Residents and municipal officials in Upington say they were systematically blocked from attending a public hearing in the city about the Electricity Regulations Amendment Bill on 24 October 2023. 

The hearing was organised by the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy.

Across the road in the Dawid Kruiper Local Municipality, some criticised the portfolio committee, saying that by not sending out notices and inviting everyone to attend, the committee had systematically blocked critics of the bill from commenting. 

“We can’t just pick a few winning solutions out of the Electricity Amendment Bill and tell people that this is what they’ve got to take in their own communities,” said Stanley Peterson, Speaker of SF Mgcawu Municipality. “That’s not the way it works. I am a Speaker in this municipality, but together with other councillors we weren’t invited to this public hearing, I came here just like everyone else. This is a disrespect from the portfolio committee.”

“Despite my reservations, I placed my trust in the chair of this portfolio committee that we would have an open debate that would provide a space for the voices of communities so that they could speak truth to power. That trust has been lost and it will take much to regain it.” 

Public hearings into electricity regulation amendment bill

‘My trust is lost,’ says Stanley Peterson, Speaker of the SF Mgcawu Municipality. (Photo: Gilbert Moela)

‘Process is deceptive’

“This committee and the process is deceptive,” said Gudani Tshikota, the project lead for Mining Affected Communities United in Action’s (Macua) Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and Democracy Campaign. “It reeks of systemic exclusion when you lock out a community that you know will be affected and impacted. And we’re not allowed to speak? So, our motto is: No decisions about us without us. 

“When you hide things and you inherently do things the wrong way without consideration for people, that is never a good sign.”

Nevertheless, he said citizens would remain engaged whether or not they were included in the public hearing process.

“We don’t quit. You can’t buy us, and we don’t back down. Whatever they told you about us, if you want to bring this flawed process to communities, you better put your boots on. Because we’re going to fight you with everything and don’t think we’re alone,” Gudani said. He asked that the portfolio committee give residents and concerned community members equal footing in the process.

“We aim to continuously organise communities across the country to oppose this bill for this reason.”

Macua national coordinator Meshack Mbangula said: “Furthermore, we have read and noted that this bill, among other things, seeks to drive the privatisation of electricity supply. Electricity is a basic need, and we have seen the impact privatisation has had on basic needs with the privatisation of water in Johannesburg. Privatisation is a neo-liberal concept that prioritised profit before people,” 

‘We need to be told what is going on’

Public hearings into electricity regulation amendment bill

Gaopaliwe Holele from nearby Barbadas didn’t even know about the public hearing until on the day. (Photo: Gilbert Moela)

Gaopaliwe Holele (65), who lives in Barbadas, a few kilometres outside Upington, didn’t even know about the public hearing. 

“I was informed of this public hearing today and had to climb in a taxi to come to get to know what is happening. We need to be told of what is going to be addressed or discussed so that we contribute meaningfully to this public hearing,” Holele said.

Of the 25 people signed up to speak during the public hearings, only a few understood the contents of the bill, and they emphasised that their municipal officials had failed them by not educating them about the bill. Some in attendance said the public hearing was just a formality and box-ticking exercise since contributions from citizens were disregarded. They said they hoped that the portfolio committee would not mislead them and privatise Eskom. 

Few days of electricity

Public hearings into electricity regulation amendment bill

Hendrik Esel says he can only afford to buy electricity a few days a month. (Photo: Gilbert Moela)

Hendrik Esel (83), who lives just a few metres from the community hall, has on numerous occasions gone without electricity as he can only afford to have electricity for just a few days after receiving his pension grant. 

“I saw people going up and down in the hall next door and I sent my granddaughter to go ask what is going on there. She came back to tell me that there is a public hearing. I came here hoping to raise my concerns about the systematic exclusion and the cost of electricity but unfortunately I wasn’t chosen to speak,” Esel said.

Anna de Bruin, a farmworker who also complained about the cost of electricity and the privatisation of state-owned entities, furiously raised her concerns. “As a woman and a single mother, I do understand that the government must reach out to communities before passing any laws, but no one in this hall has ever gone through the bill. I can’t say I support or don’t support the bill, the portfolio committee must come here and educate us about it.” DM

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