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State inaction on the energy crisis infringes our rights and deepens injustice

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Mmusi Maimane is leader of Build One SA.

There is a thread of patent injustice that comes to the fore when observing Human Rights Day each year. It involves the relativity of human rights in South Africa, particularly socioeconomic rights, and requires us to forgo a blank approach that assumes every individual is affected in equal measure. There are at least three examples of this injustice.

The first is the need for actualising human rights, and how it differs according to social status and financial ability. The poorer you are, the greater your need for the positive realisation of human rights – access to healthcare, education, basic sanitary services, housing and others. 

The richer you are, the less relevant these human rights become. Some households can afford to insulate themselves from human rights abuses and the failure of the state – through private medical aid, insurance, generators and solar, private security, private schooling, and so on.

The second is the quality of human rights accessible to citizens. South Africa’s Constitution is heralded as one of the most progressive in the world for – among other things – its comprehensive set of socioeconomic rights. However, what is the measure of a right? And does it provide dignity? Pit toilets, mud schools, shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment and inhumane informal settlements all suggest these rights exist on paper only. 

The final injustice is the power imbalance in asserting human rights. Like the Irish judge Sir James Mathew famously quipped: “Justice is open to all – like the Ritz Hotel.” Access to courts for remedial action is extremely expensive – and available to a select few – again illustrating the absurdity of a blanket approach to human rights in South Africa, which remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The very essence of our case posits that, by action or inaction, the government is infringing at least four constitutionally enshrined human rights

It is with this context that Build One South Africa (Bosa) approaches Human Rights Day this year, the 63rd commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre. From Monday, 20 March, and for the four days following, spanning across Human Rights Day, Bosa and other entities will be in court seeking relief for citizens struggling under the unyielding weight of a national electricity crisis.

Our action seeks to legally put a stop to the 18.65% tariff increase by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa); end load shedding; and hold the government accountable for its failure to provide electricity to the nation. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Load shedding threatens us with food shedding, and that means tough times ahead

Electricity shortages and the saturating knock-on effects only deepen injustice and inequality in South Africa, while infringing a number of human rights.

The very essence of our case posits that, by action or inaction, the government is infringing at least four constitutionally enshrined human rights: Section 22 – the right to choose and practise a trade, occupation or profession freely; Section 24 – the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; Section 27 – the right to healthcare, food, water and social security; and Section 29 – the right to education.


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In court tomorrow we are requesting the following from the government:

  1. That there will be no load shedding without procedural fairness and a fair opportunity to make alternative arrangements to affected persons and businesses;
  2. That load shedding will stop with immediate effect, and if not, a full explanation about why the government is unable to stop load shedding with immediate effect;
  3. In the alternative, a specific timetable as to when load shedding will end, and the reasons for the said timetable;
  4. That the state will develop and make publicly available a clear plan to end load shedding, which plan must include the resources available to ensure that it is realised;
  5. That the 18.65% increase granted by Nersa will not be implemented pending the determination of the court challenge we intend to institute;
  6. That the state will, through any lawfully created mechanism, make reasonable disclosure to the public on the challenges driving the energy crisis and the solutions implemented to solve it; and
  7. That the state will commit to compensate everyone who has suffered quantifiable financial losses because of load shedding.

 The persistent rolling blackouts that have plagued the nation’s electricity supply since the second half of 2007 have impacted all South Africans, particularly small businesses, healthcare facilities and educational institutions. The energy crisis has affected South Africa’s economic growth and has resulted in job losses, business closures and increasing inflation. More so, it is poor citizens who bear the brunt and feel its effects the hardest. 

In the medium term, Bosa argues that revitalising South Africa’s electricity sector requires unleashing private power generation capabilities using all sources of energy, from refurbished and cleaner coal-fired power stations to conventional and unconventional natural gas resources, to forward-looking renewable energy options, and nuclear power.  

Read more in Daily Maverick:Mmusi Maimane unveils Build One South Africa’s grand plan to attract voters

South Africa must add five 4,000MW to 5,000MW nuclear power stations built over the next 10-plus years, or similar capacity derived from a higher number of small modular reactors. The technology exists, and it has proven both clean and safe in countries where nuclear power has been deployed. 

By using South Africa’s substantial home-grown nuclear expertise, we can find international technology partners in America, Europe, China and Russia. Together with expanded renewables this will ensure both future energy security and that South Africa meets its Just Transition responsibilities.

South Africans are desperate for tangible action that builds our country and puts it on the path to prosperity. This Human Rights Day is no exception. DM

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  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The court action by Musi Maimane is dead in the water and he knows it that it is a publicity stunt. He wrote a stupid article attacking mass action like the Apartheid supporters who would say as he was saying it would make no difference. This is the same Maimane who marched in a business supported march for Jacob Zuma to resign. Those of us who spent months n detention were insulted by Maimane without shame that our mass actions were meaningless because they would change nothing. One has a very clear message for this DA political novice. In a democracy protests are an essential part to have an active citizenry to hold those in power accountable and for citizens to express themselves. It is like journalists of the Daily Maverick who make an issue of taxis who do not support mass action. They never supported mass action during Apartheid and were always in the side of the oppressors like businesses. It was not a surprise that they are sell outs because they have always been sell out throughout the struggle and one says this without apologies. We wait to see if at the end of your nonsensical court action there will be electricity because you said after the mass action there will be no change. As you have rich sponsors to go to courts, the masses of our people have to demonstrate their anger n the streets.

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