After 15 years, have we finally reached the tipping point as South Africans, fed up with government’s inability to fix our electricity crisis and the ongoing debilitating load shedding?
We are currently enduring our longest spell of rolling blackouts. There were over 200 days of load shedding last year. We have been to stage six. Stage eight is on the horizon. The impact is devastating on small business owners and entrepreneurs. The economy is being battered. To top it off, National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has granted Eskom a nearly 19% tariff increase.
Yet government appears to have no political will or urgency to fix the crisis, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assurances that he is treating it as a crisis and his grand gesture of him cancelling his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.
Court challenges against Eskom, the president and the government are stacking up. Marches are being planned to the African National Congress’s (ANC) headquarters at Luthuli House and Eskom’s offices at Megawatt Park. There is talk of an uprising, a national stay away, a revolution. Citizens are already taking to the streets in Parys, in Kroonstad, in other towns too where people are angry. Some are considering a tax revolt in a show of civil disobedience.
People are looking for a way to demonstrate their outrage.
This week a friend sent me this meme accompanied by these questions: “I want to do something. I want to be heard. Must I withhold my tax? Not pay the City of Joburg? It can’t be about voting only. Help me understand what I can do to help stop this corruption.”
I fully appreciate that South Africans are experiencing resilience fatigue. After years of mismanagement, corruption, looting and general bad leadership, it is exhausting to keep being an active citizen.
But it is essential. Here’s what you can do.
Don’t become apathetic. If we roll over and give up, it can only get worse. The fact that you are outraged and boiling over is a good thing. Harness that energy in the way you can only pray Eskom could.
Vote. This is a political crisis above all. The electricity situation in the country is what it is because of the ANC’s inability to plan, to innovate, to curb corruption, to put country before party. Our failure to generate new capacity and to fast track the inclusion of independent power producers so we can bring renewables online, are the result of politics. Don’t stay away from the polls when we vote next year. If you think all political parties are rubbish then pick the party that is least bad.
You can hit the streets and protest peacefully, as is your democratic right. Remember 7 April 2017, when South Africans marched against former president Jacob Zuma and his removal of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister. It put pressure on Zuma – even though Malusi Gigaba remained on as finance minister, it altered the temperature of the country and the mood of the ANC. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is organising a protest march on Luthuli House. #StandUpSouth Africa, a civil society organisation is planning a march to the Union Buildings. We again have to put the president under pressure to speak to us, to act, to get things moving.
There is a view that protest marches achieve no tangible action. Any memorandum that is handed over has to include reasonable and achievable demands. It would also be effective if civil society worked together to coordinate a public display of outrage, and this is happening.
Support legal action. Various efforts have been launched in the past week. Seven law firms representing several political parties, business people, unions, activists have written to Eskom and the Department of Public Enterprises demanding that government stops load shedding and if they can’t, that they give a full explanation of why. They also want those impacted by rolling blackouts compensated and the utility and government department gives a specific plan and timetable for how and when load-shedding will end.
The DA is also seeking an urgent interdict to stop the Nersa-approved electricity price hike.
In separate legal action, two civil society organisations have brought legal action against the president for failing to bring section 6 of the National Energy Act into operation and for the minister of energy to develop an integrated energy plan.
We know from experience that class action lawsuits can take a long time. These cases are also difficult because an elected government has a mandate to make executive decisions that the courts can’t interfere with. But the courts can hold politicians accountable.
And there’s more.
The Green Connection’s advocacy officer, Kholwani Simelane, suggests being vocal and interacting on social media.
You could set up a debit order to contribute financially to civil society organisations that are fighting the fight. You can offer your time and expertise too. Many of these groups are doing brilliant work to defend our democratic institutions and this is essential.
What we learnt from the fight against e-tolls over the last decade is that a civil disobedience campaign can bring government to its knees. Citizens just have to refuse to pay en masse.
But the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s Wayne Duvenage insists that this situation is different – a tax revolt would be chaos and anarchy. “A tax revolt is a country that collapses overnight. You think you are spiting government by holding money back but you will never recover from it,” says Duvenage.
He also says the social media hysteria and the sharing of misinformation makes matters worse.
“You’ve got a lot of people with agendas climbing on to the bandwagon. We are all frustrated and have the right to be frustrated but this frenzy of miscommunication doesn’t help.”
Be angry on social media but keep a cool head. Don’t share information unless it comes from a trusted source and speculation is not helpful.
Eskom needs to get rid of its debt, which means municipalities need to pay Eskom for power it is providing. If you live in one of those municipalities that isn’t paying, then put pressure on your local government. Localised protest actions work here. Get involved with your residents’ association.
But don’t destroy infrastructure. This week the Parys mayor’s house was burnt down by angry citizens upset about electricity. Hold local government to account – but as the CEO of Sasria told me this week, the country simply cannot afford to bankroll another spate of looting and unrest like we saw in July 2021.
Eskom has also been eviscerated by looting, criminal syndicates and corruption. These organised syndicates continue to loot the parastatal. There is theft of coal and poor quality coal. If you are in the Eskom system and have knowledge of this, speak up. Whistleblowers working with authorities to fight corruption have to be protected and encouraged and law enforcement has to close down these networks that Andre de Ruyter exposed.
You are right to be outraged. This has gone on long enough and government must be held accountable and the problem has to be fixed. Shout and scream, but do something that can lead to an outcome too.