Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


‘Why wake up the dead?’ Ramokgopa’s decisions and credibility as minister questioned

'We have all clearly seen the constant failure of these coal-fired power stations. Eskom has told us time and time again that they are failing.'


Ordinary South Africans are livid with the lack of reassurance of a practical solution or even an end to years of constant blackouts.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has disappointed us. I trusted him, I voted for him but now I regret it,” said Sizakele Radebe.

For her, rotting food, crime, debt-ridden businesses and water shortages were the worst aspects of the crisis. Radebe said after losing her job due to Covid, she was forced to work as a domestic worker in Johannesburg.

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“You can imagine how much I earn; I don’t even have money to buy takeaway, and the outages prevent me from simple tasks, such as cooking. I can’t buy groceries as normal. I have to buy meat every day when I want it, otherwise it will get rotten,” she added.

“I hear people talking about ordinary South Africans moving away from Eskom. How, when most households cannot afford a generator or even solar? Most of the houses I know in Soweto cannot even afford candles.”

Why would Ramokgopa choose to wake up the dead?

Following Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s suggestion to extend the lives of the increasingly costly, ageing and polluting coal-fired power stations, South Africans have questioned not only his credibility as a minister, but also his decisions.

“Why would he choose to wake up the dead? We have all clearly seen the constant failure of these coal-fired power stations. Eskom has told us time and time again that they are failing,” 52-year-old Mandla Madlanga said.

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The Doornfontein resident said: “This is clearly another tactic to chow our money, because I don’t understand why they keep insisting on fixing what’s broken.

“Like white people always say, there is no use crying over spilt milk. We have heard people who studied for this saying we should change. What is the delay?

“We could have started a while ago and by now we would be far, we wouldn’t even be stressing about load shedding.”

According to a report commissioned by BrandMapp, 50% of taxpayers believed load shedding would never end.

The report, which used data from 1 496 South Africans who stayed in households earning above R10 000 per month, revealed that more than 72% of taxpayers said blackouts had affected their work life negatively.

It also revealed young people were disproportionately affected by the loss of work opportunities, which was deeply concerning in the context of the country’s high youth unemployment rate.

Uncertainty

University of Stellenbosch professor Mark Swilling said Ramokgopa’s plan had introduced extensive uncertainty and was substantially undermining what was the most urgent priority, which was to accelerate investments in the energy sector.

This uncertainty “is going to affect investment flows into the energy sector at exactly a time when it is the last thing we need”.

“So if Cabinet approves his plan, it’ll take a few years for those plans to … end load shedding.”

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He said renewables were not as variable as Ramokgopa had suggested.

“They are backed up by storage from batteries and gas, and that is what makes renewables viable, not just in South Africa, but all over the world, because the world is now spending over $500 billion [about R9 trillion] on renewables, which is double the total amount spent on coal and nuclear combined.”

‘Throwing good money after bad’

Executive director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, Melissa Fourie said to be investing in old coal-fired power plants at this stage “is throwing good money after bad”.

With renewable energy now significantly cheaper than electricity from old or new coal power plants, it made no sense to invest in their refurbishment.

ALSO READ: Ramokgopa more of an electricity ‘propaganda expert’ than a fixer

“Any plan to refurbish old plants must be properly costed, but it is very likely that it will be quicker and cheaper to build renewables than to refurbish the old plants – and time and cost are critical to get us out of this energy crisis as quickly and as cheaply as possible,” she said.

“Air pollution from our coal power stations kills thousands of people every year, and causes major harm to the health and development prospects of people living around coal power plants, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.

“The high court has already held that the toxic air on the Mpumalanga Highveld, where most of Eskom’s power stations are situated, violates the constitutional rights of people living there.

“The proposal to extend the lives of coal power stations will make this untenable situation even worse.”

NOW READ:  ‘Best switch off the country’ says gatvol SA as indefinite stage 6 load shedding implemented (again)

– reitumetsem@citizen.co.za