Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), Mr Mkhuleko Hlengwa, recently sponsored a topic for debate in the National Assembly, “Energy crisis and the threat of a protracted failure of Eskom”, on South Africa’s electricity challenges.

Members of Parliament from the various political parties represented in Parliament presented their party’s views on the situation. Mr Hlengwa began by saying that since March, there have been 26 days of load shedding thus far in 2022, with Eskom’s national control manager predicting at least 100 days of power cuts this winter. “While our economy is on the verge of collapse, Eskom has advised that blackouts that will cost South Africa billions of rands are on the cards, and yet it takes an opposition party – the IFP – to raise the alarm,” Mr Hlengwa said.

He argued in the hybrid sitting that the state power utility Is unable to fulfil its fundamental duty, which is to generate enough energy to power our national grid. “With the almost weekly breakdowns and other maintenance-related issues, it is clear that our energy infrastructure is ageing faster than Eskom can get its affairs in order. Eskom has become a national and international embarrassment,” he said.

The Scopa Chairperson further added that South Africa’s reliance on coal flies in the face of international agreements we have signed to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. “It is without question that we must ensure we fully pursue the alternatives to coal in generating electricity, while safeguarding and climate-proofing our environment. We are a country with untapped opportunities and resourceful people. We have an economy that needs to rebound, but any green shoots are dependent on the certainty of its energy supply to move forward.

“Load-shedding cannot become South Africa’s default position. It is not a solution to our energy crisis. We need urgent action now, before we are left in the dark, permanently,” argued Mr Hlengwa.

Representing the African National Party, Mr Mikateko Mahlaule launched an attack on the opposition and accused them, particularly the IFP and the Democratic Alliance, of lacking the correct understanding of the challenges facing Eskom. The DA has previously sponsored a similar motion for debate where it blamed the electricity problem on inefficiencies of the African National Congress.

Said Mr Mahlaule: “What we are witnessing with regard to Eskom is neither a threat nor a failure, it is merely a logical outcome of the instrumentalisation of democratic practices. Access to electricity is a fundamental democratic right and Eskom shows unwavering commitment to that even though there is often a mismatch between access and energy security,” he said.

Mr Mahlaule also pointed out that the ANC government was committed to the energy-mix approach, which include Eskom’s procurement of energy from independent power producers (IPPs) and plans to implement the nuclear power programme framework to procure 2 500 megawatts of nuclear power. “Nuclear power in addition to IPPs and gas will allow Eskom to conduct maintenance without interruptions as well as sustain the South African economy. It is in the national interest that Eskom must be fixed and restructured to ensure that there is sufficient power to implement the economic reconstruction and recovery plan to reverse the effects of poverty, inequality and unemployment,” he said.

The DA’s Mr Kevin Mileham said the crisis at Eskom require bold and urgent attention to quickly bring new energy generation online. “More than half of Eskom’s coal-powered fleet is offline for one reason or another. Our energy availability is at a record annual low of 58 percent and the three-month outlook indicates a rough road ahead, with a high a high risk of load shedding.”

He also proposed that bottlenecks in connecting IPPs to the grid be removed, the transmission infrastructure be upgraded and the framework for private generation and municipal procurement be simplified.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) believe that all interventions, including bailouts, to stabilise Eskom are misguided, as the ruling party refuses to address obvious challenges. This has led to a far deeper crisis at the utility. “Three years ago, former Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni introduced a special appropriations bill in the National Assembly to request Parliament to appropriate R59 billion to give to Eskom. Lots of promises and commitments were made. We were told the money will help to reduce the systemic risk of energy crisis and stabilize Eskom,” said EFF Member of Parliament Ms Omphile Maotwe.

She proposed that coal prices be pegged to stabilise Eskom finances. The EFF also does not believe that Eskom should be unbundled, but considers investment in nuclear energy in a financially responsive manner as a positive response to the situation. “Eskom remains the biggest threat to South Africa’s fiscal stability because of its debt and nearly R400 billion in guarantees. It is a stumbling block to any efforts to kick start a dead economy,” she said.

Mr Wouter Wessels of the Freedom Front Plus questioned how Eskom runs at a loss when it is a monopoly. “It is an undisputable fact that has and has always had a monopoly on electricity supply in South Africa. Now according to economics 101, a monopoly always makes a profit. It can never ever make a loss, except under the management of the ANC. You manage to break all rules, even economic principles,” he said.

He blamed the Eskom crisis on a bloated workforce, mismanagement, corruption, failed policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment.

Closing the debate, the Minister of Public Enterprises Mr Pravin Gordhan admitted that load shedding costs the country dearly and causes great frustration among all South Africans. It creates hardship for households and businesses. This is why the government has committed to ensure energy security is achieved as soon as possible.

“It won’t be tomorrow, but it will be achieved. Government and Eskom are working to resolve the energy crisis affecting this country. And I can assure this house and the public that there is a lot of hard work, notwithstanding the hurdles and the difficulties that we face, is going into this,” the Minister said.

Sakhile Mokoena
10 May 2022