The South African government has announced the revocation of the national “state of disaster” that was declared in February to manage the country’s electricity crisis. The move comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa invoked disaster regulations to tackle the crisis, which had resulted in daily rolling power cuts by state utility Eskom due to frequent breakdowns at its ageing coal-fired power stations and years of corruption. The state of disaster gave the government additional powers to respond to the crisis, including emergency procurement procedures with fewer bureaucratic delays and less oversight. However, the government has now decided to terminate the disaster regulations in view of recent developments, including the appointment of a new Electricity Minister and consultations with Eskom aimed at resolving the electricity shortages.
As part of efforts to mitigate the effect of the crisis, newly appointed Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa visited the troubled utility’s power stations in recent weeks. The government will now work through its Energy Crisis Committee to reduce the impact of power cuts using existing legislation and contingency arrangements. The decision to revoke the state of disaster legislation was first used to enable health authorities to respond more swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some analysts doubted it would help boost the power supply. The legislation was also challenged in court by OUTA, a nonprofit that focuses on fighting government corruption and tax abuses. OUTA argued that the disaster regulations would have enabled corruption and that the crisis could be managed using existing laws.
Eskom has implemented scheduled electricity outages since the beginning of the year, with most households and businesses without power for up to 10 hours a day. The cuts, known locally as “load shedding”, have taken a toll on households and small businesses in Africa’s most industrialised nation. The utility said it would not comment on the state of disaster withdrawal until it engaged with the government.
The decision to revoke the state of disaster legislation has been met with mixed reactions. Some have welcomed the move, arguing that the legislation was unnecessary and would have enabled corruption. Others have expressed concern that the government’s existing laws and contingency arrangements may not be sufficient to address the electricity crisis. The South African economy has already been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the electricity crisis has only added to the country’s woes. The government will need to work quickly and effectively to address the crisis and ensure that households and businesses have access to reliable electricity.