The electricity crisis in South Africa could threaten national security, and University of Johannesburg senior research fellow Oscar van Heerden believes President Cyril Ramaphosa should declare a state of emergency.
In an interview with eNCA, Van Heerden said more South African National Defense Force (SANDF) troops should be deployed at Eskom power stations across the country.
“Yes. The truth is that there have been significant inroads made with the SANDF,” Van Heerden responded to a question about whether a state of emergency is warranted.
“So, I am suggesting that we need a higher presence of SANDF staff, especially at the power stations, because I think that’s where the problem actually lies.”
He said despite various interventions from government, including the reinstatement of mothballed power stations and the appointment of an electricity minister, load-shedding is still a reality.
“It seems to me that what is required is extraordinary measures. That is why I’m saying that the President really needs to consider declaring a state of emergency,” said Van Heerden.
“That then allows him to circumvent some of the mundane procurement rules and regulations, the appointment of competent staff and private companies to try and solve this problem.”
He added that load-shedding poses a significant risk to South African residents, with crime on the rise in the country and criminals frequently targeting households during load-shedding bouts.
However, if South Africa were to implement a state of emergency, it wouldn’t be the first time government tried such an extraordinary intervention.
In February 2023, then-Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, declared a state of disaster over Eskom load-shedding.
This came as National Disaster Management Centre head Elias Sithole classified the impact of load-shedding as a national disaster.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the state of disaster during his 2023 State of the Nation Address.
“The state of disaster will enable us to provide practical measures that we need to take to support businesses in the food production, storage and retail supply chain, including for the rollout of generators, solar panels and uninterrupted power supply,” he said.
Interventions under the state of disaster included the appointment of Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity.
“The Minister of Electricity will focus full-time and work with the Eskom board and management on ending load shedding and ensuring that the Energy Action Plan is implemented without delay,” said Ramaphosa.
The decision faced backlash from several organisations, including the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), trade union Solidarity, and the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Curiously, the DA opposed the state of disaster declaration despite suggesting that the President declare one.
The political party’s suggestion dates back to at least April 2022. It demanded that government declare a state of disaster to address load-shedding.
However, following Ramaphosa’s announcement, DA leader John Steenhuisen declared the party’s opposition to another state of disaster, saying South Africa had been down that road before.
“During the Covid-19 disaster, we saw the fatal flaws in the National State of Disaster legislation, which allows the ANC unfettered power to loot without any parliamentary oversight,” he said.
“The DA is already in court to declare the Disaster Management Act unconstitutional, and we will now do the same to prevent the ANC looting frenzy that will follow Ramaphosa’s’ dangerous and desperate announcement like night follows day.”
A few days later, Solidarity served court papers to have the state of disaster over electricity declared unlawful.
Its justification was that the electricity crisis didn’t meet the definition of a disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
Furthermore, Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said the government itself is the cause of the electricity disaster.
Outa filed an urgent application to have the state of disaster over load-shedding overturned on 16 February 2023.
It said the declaration of a state of disaster over electricity supply constraints was “irrational, arbitrary, and unlawful”.
Stephanie Fick, executive director for accountability and public government agreed that the electricity crisis was the government’s doing.
“Years of state capture, mismanagement, and a dysfunctional culture cannot be a rational justification for the declaration of a national state of disaster,” she said.
“If the decision to declare a national state of disaster due to this self-created crisis by the government is allowed to stand, it will open the floodgates for further such disasters to be declared in various other sectors that suffered from similar dysfunction, mismanagement, and corruption.”