Lawyer says Eskom and Ramaphosa could be in contempt of court

Government has missed a critical deadline specified in a court order against it to exempt sectors such as schools, police stations, and health facilities from load-shedding.

The court order specified a deadline of 1 January 2024, which has now lapsed, and one of the attorneys on the case, Siphile Buthelezi, says the defendants could be found in contempt of court, which is considered a criminal offence.

The defendants listed on the court documents include President Cyril Ramaphosa, electricity minister Kgosentsho Ramokgopa, Eskom, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, and the Department of Public Enterprises.

“The order was granted on 1 December, but we have not received any form of appeal documentation as the applicants’ lawyers,” Buthelezi said in an interview with SABC News.

“If indeed there is no appeal, that can amount to contempt of court. In South Africa, contempt of court is a criminal offence, which then allows the applicant to follow one of two procedures.”

He explained that the options are either to bring an application to court for contempt or the applicant can go to a police station to open a criminal case, which the National Prosecution Authority will prosecute.

Former President Jacob Zuma was also found in contempt of court, which resulted in him being sentenced to jail time. This led to an uproar among his supporters, sparking the July 2021 unrest that plunged the country into chaos.

In May 2023, the South African High Court ordered public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to “take all reasonable steps within 60 days” to ensure critical facilities like hospitals, schools, and police stations are excluded from load-shedding.

Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises

The High Court ruling follows an application from several entities, including civil society organisations, trade unions, and political parties, who joined forces in a legal battle against the government and Eskom.

Nineteen organisations, including the United Democratic Movement, National Union of Metalworkers, Action SA, and Build One SA, approached the Pretoria High Court on Friday, 10 March 2023.

Other entities involved include the Soweto Crisis Committee, Democracy in Action and the SA Unemployed People’s Movement.

The entities, represented by a team of nine lawyers, accused Eskom, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the public enterprises and energy departments of failing their constitutional and statutory obligations by not exempting these facilities.

In cases where buildings or sites can’t be isolated from the grid to exempt them from power cuts, government must make arrangements for alternative energy supplies, such as generators.

To this end, Ramokgopa scored a donation of petrol generators from China to be used at these facilities.

However, the donation wasn’t exactly what many South Africans expected. After visiting the Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodon, in March 2023, Ramokgopa said the generators would range from 6kW to 200kW.

Chen Xiaodong, Chinese ambassador to South Africa (left). Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, South Africa’s electricity minister (right).

“200kW can support a clinic and a medium-sized hospital, so this is true relief to the South African people,” he said.

He shared pictures of the donation in December 2023, which didn’t seem to show any large generators, but instead several smaller units like South Africans can buy from local retailers.

The minister received backlash through the comments section of his post, as the generators appear smaller than many had expected.

“You can buy those at Makro,” one user said.

“Give them back,” another added.

Several other commenters described the announcement as “embarrassing” and criticised the electricity minister.

We couldn’t work out the generators’ specs from the photos Ramokgopa posted, but it appeared as though the larger units he promised hadn’t arrived yet.

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Lawyer says Eskom and Ramaphosa could be in contempt of court