In an ideal world, one would not need to take the government to court to force it to comply with its basic duties and constitutional obligations. Under the ANC, however, we could not be further from an ideal world. So used have South Africans become to the absurd reality of rolling blackouts that those holding the government to account are deemed to be the bad guys.
But as much as Stage 6 load shedding has come to feel like the new normal, we must remember that it is not. It is unconscionable that under the ANC’s watch, we have reached the point where citizens are without power for nine to 12 hours per day, with the situation expected to worsen. We cannot tolerate this.
That is why I strongly oppose some of the responses to the recent legal victory of ActionSA and others which exempts hospitals, police stations and schools from load shedding. Some commentators have criticised it for the potential cost associated with exempting these key institutions from load shedding, while others have implied that the ruling might worsen the electricity crisis.
ActionSA, however, believes that this legal victory is a necessary part of a response by South Africans across the board to finally force the government into action. It is only through collective pressure that progress will be made to end load shedding — 16 years after the ANC’s disastrous management of our energy security first plunged South Africa into darkness.
At this point, the maximum amount of pressure should be exerted on the ANC government to force it to address the ongoing electricity disaster. As should now be apparent to all, the government has shown no interest or ability to bring an end to the energy crisis that is destroying South African livelihoods and lives.
For too long, it has presented myopic, misaligned and scientifically flawed proposals to address South Africa’s energy crisis. A crisis, it must be pointed out, for which responsibility lies solely at the feet of the ANC. The absurdity of each new proposal seems limited only by the utter incompetence of whichever compromised cadre seems to carry the favour of a President desperate to appear to be doing something while doing substantially less than the bare minimum required of his post.
If the ANC had been able to address its self-made disaster after load shedding first occurred in 2007, a legal challenge such as the one brought by ActionSA and others would never have been necessary. But, unfortunately, it is clear that the organisation that caused this crisis, and then failed for 16 years to address it, lacks the ability to do anything about it.
Communities are left defenceless
Our attempt to exempt police stations, hospitals and schools from load shedding is based purely on our legitimate concern for the havoc that load shedding causes in our communities. On a recent visit to Riverlea in Johannesburg — where the community has been caught in the crossfire of ongoing turf wars between zama zamas — police told me that the telephones of the local Langlaagte police station go offline whenever load shedding occurs. This means that when load shedding takes place, the community cannot phone for help. This is unacceptable.
Riverlea is but one example of how load shedding leaves our communities defenceless. Imagine hospitals where urgent surgeries can’t take place because of blackouts; where lifts are non-operational and therefore patients can’t be moved; or where food preparation is compromised. Or imagine schools where teaching can’t take place due to pitch-black classrooms. Our education system, ravaged by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, is already failing future generations in a multitude of ways — surely, we cannot continue to further deny our children the opportunity to learn.
It is a matter of fact that despite repeated promises by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government, and billions spent, the country’s electricity situation is now considerably worse than it was at the start of his presidency in 2018.
While the government literally burns billions of rands in diesel, no additional generation capacity has been added to the grid since 2007. In other words, our generation capacity in 2023 is lower than it was in 2007. Energy experts have given many warnings that we should expect to experience up to Stage 9 load shedding in the coming winter months. Load shedding is the biggest inhibitor to job creation in South Africa, leaving thousands of people unemployed and in poverty.
Ramaphosa’s cosmetic attempts to address the disaster have borne no fruit. The poorly implemented State of Disaster to end load shedding was hastily ended after two months when the state said there was an “improvement” in the electricity supply. No one believes this.
Meanwhile, the new minister of electricity — who went on a countrywide PR tour of power stations where he attempted to downplay the ANC’s role in causing this disaster — is still awaiting the necessary powers to address the crisis.
Two months after Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s appointment, he still has no authority to do anything. Yet even without any authority, Ramokgopa is managing to cause further damage by introducing another contradictory narrative in the government’s energy strategy as he attempts to downplay the role of corruption in bringing our power supply to its knees.
Bring maximum pressure to bear
South Africans are resilient people, but that shouldn’t mean that we become complacent about the abnormality of load shedding. We shouldn’t be relieved or celebrate when we “only” experience Stage 1 or 2 load shedding. Ramaphosa and the ANC shouldn’t use our resilience as an excuse to continue to fail in the basic functions of government. We must not fall for the PR stunts that seek to trick us into being grateful when the government only does half of its job.
In the coming months, South Africans should rather show their outrage and increase pressure to get the government to finally do something. We can’t wait another two years to see an improvement. The ANC has already had 16 years to fix this crisis. We should demand urgent and immediate action, with clear actionable timeliness — all things we asked the courts to force the government to do in Part Two of our legal challenge.
Our legal victory should be welcomed. The President has too often previously promised progress and called on citizens to have faith. We have too long believed the lie that progress is being made. Now we must do whatever we can to protect the rights of South Africans which the government so carelessly infringes on.
A lack of accountability allows governments to get away with mistreating their citizens. But we will do everything in our power to ensure that Ramaphosa and the ANC do not forget the people. We will get the government to take action — through the courts and by getting voters to the ballot box — to bring an end to load shedding, create jobs and restore South Africa to a path to prosperity. DM