The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), the country’s energy regulator, recently approved raising Eskom’s rate to 18.65% for 2023 and 12.74% for 2024, which has raised the prospect of a government shutdown. In order to address the power crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was supposed to attend the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week, has canceled his travel, according to his spokesperson Vincent Magwenya, who tweeted on Sunday night.
“Due to the ongoing energy crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa has cancelled his working visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Currently, the President is convening a meeting with leaders of political parties represented in parliament, [National Energy Crisis Committee] and the Eskom board,” said Magwenya.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa has already engaged with the leadership of Eskom and the National Energy Crisis Committee and those meetings will continue. More briefing sessions to key stakeholders will take place during this coming week.”
Magwenya had previously indicated that Ramaphosa acknowledged the frustration of ongoing Stage 6 rolling blackouts and expressed concern over Eskom’s most recent 18.65% pricing increase, but claimed he lacked the power to do action. The public, civil society organizations, and political parties have all supported the statewide shutdown on social media, and many people plan to march to the Union Buildings or the Eskom offices in Johannesburg’s Megawatt Park.
The call for a nationwide shutdown on February 9 is trending on social media sites like Twitter due to ongoing stage 6 load shedding and the disclosure of a significant increase in electricity prices. Who is behind the protest action is not immediately apparent. A widely disseminated announcement reads, “Remember. The national shutdown day is February 9.
“Tell your family, tell your friends 2024 is too far! People are losing their jobs, having their homes taken.”
“Every town must have its own coordinator and the main march must be in Cape Town, where the people will march to the state of the nation event — where politicians and their partners will be wearing glittering fashion while we suffer in darkness.
“We have the power … we must not listen to that speech, we will be protesting and having town meetings …
— Bhungane (@Iam_Ntsindiso) January 13, 2023
To voice their opinions on the electricity crisis, politicians from different parties are also adopting the hashtag “national shutdown.” Patriotic Alliance head, Gayton McKenzie, said in a Twitter post: “The success of the #NationalShutdown would be dependent on it being depoliticised. You are first a citizen before you are a member of a political party and load-shedding affects all citizens, even those among us who are off the grid. Let’s protest together as South Africans.”
DA leader John Steehuisen criticized the 18,65% hike on Saturday while in Pietermaritzburg. On January 25, he claimed, the party would protest the action by organizing a large march to the ANC’s headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg and requesting an interdict against the energy regulator.
I can announce that the DA is organising a major protest march to the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg on 25 January against the ANC-engineered electricity crisis. Stage 6 load shedding has taken away your power. It is time to take away the ANC’s.
— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) January 14, 2023
“I think it’s time we let this government know we are tired of paying for its corruption, maladministration and cadre deployment. We are not going to accept the 18.65% increase,” said Steenhuisen, adding it would mean a 33% increase over the next two years.
People’s Movement for Change (PMC), has announced that it will join other civil society organizations in a demonstration against power outages in an effort to put pressure on Eskom and the government. One of the political groups that has supported the shutdown and urged the government to stop mismanaging Eskom and end continuous blackouts is the African Transformation Movement (ATM).
“In August 2022, Ramaphosa established the National Energy Crisis Committee to look into load shedding, after many promises by his administration since 2018. Nothing has been delivered. The time is up! Let’s take a stand! #NationalShutdown,” says ATM.
In schools where electricity is needed for teaching & learning, especially for schools of specialisation where equipment is needed, #Loadshedding directly hampers the quality of learning & teaching!
— African Transformation Movement (@ATMovement_SA) January 13, 2023
Fed-up South Africans have also lent their voices to the #NationalShutdown call.
“The president’s hands are tied because he doesn’t have to sit in the dark, he doesn’t have to get out a cab when it’s pitch black and run for his life because of the high crime rate, his hands are tied because he doesn’t care,” said one Twitter user.
“We need to march, not only for electricity but also for crime, for unemployment, for food price increases, we are too quiet in this country, hope this will not end here, a clear message needs to go across to those leading the country, its enough #NationalShutdown.”
SA Federation of Trade Unions said the electricity tariff hike, “will devastate the budgets of poor and working people, especially women, and Eskom’s strategy is still aimed at generation privatisation without genuine decarbonisation.
“This latest tariff increase should be looked at from a long-term perspective”.
“Combined with increases in the past 15 years, the electricity tariff is more than 800% higher than 2007”.
“Hence electricity has become unaffordable for poor and working-class people. We are especially angry that it is South African women, who mainly take care of our homes, cooking and child-rearing, who must resort to supplementing electricity with firewood, coal, paraffin and gas stoves and heaters. Alternatives to electricity may be cheaper in the short-term but they create indoor air pollution, which is much costlier to health in the medium term. These tariff hikes are the main contributor to the ever-rising cost of living. In 2022, the average food expenses for a household of four grew by more than R400 to an estimated total of R4,853, while electricity consumption of 350 kWh increased by R50 to a total of R787.50 according to the Household Affordability Index,” said Saftu.
“Paying for food and electricity now costs way more than the national minimum wage earned by about half of the workforce in the country. Additionally, workers’ wages are being suppressed across the economy, and consequently, even the wages of that earning above the national minimum wage are losing their buying power, “This means any increases in the costs of electricity and food, fuel, transport, hygiene products and so on, is making the living conditions of ordinary workers worse and unaffordable. Even for so-called middle-income earners, 80% of their salaries are depleted within five days of receiving the income due to the rising cost of living”.
Civil society outraged by Eskom tariff hikes and rolling blackouts
According to Liz McDaid, OUTA’s Parliamentary and Energy Adviser,there is no way around rising electricity prices and rolling blackouts. “As customers we are expected to shore up our failed electricity utility. For Eskom, there is huge pressure to improve its energy availability factor (EAF) to above 65% to meet the regulator’s conditions, whilst not being given the full extent of its 32% increase application. OUTA is outraged at the government’s failure to help South Africans to weather this storm.”
McDaid argued that the necessity for an immediate and effective solution to the electricity crisis. “We also need a forward-looking energy minister who sees the value of renewable energy and fast tracks its implementation to get affordable energy onto the grid,” she said.
Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner, Nhlanhla Sibisi said: “This tariff increase, which is almost three times the inflation rate of 7.4%, will seriously and negatively impact South Africans. What’s more unthinkable is that South Africans are expected to incur a greater cost while receiving less electricity, considering we are in the longest extended period of load shedding in the history of the electricity crisis.”
Sibisi said a just transition to renewable energy is the best and most immediate answer to South Africa’s energy dilemma and can help solve the youth unemployment crisis, without making South Africans pay for Eskom’s history of corruption and inefficiency.
NERSA approves price hike
Last week, Energy regulator Nersa approved an 18.65% increase in energy costs for 2023 and a 12.74% increase for the following year. The fifth Multi-Year Price Determination (MYPD) for Eskom for years two (2023–2024) and three (2024–2025) is the subject of the regulator’s decision.
Even while the authorized rise is less than Eskom had requested, it is still substantial and significantly more than inflation. Eskom submitted price hike requests in September 2022 for 2023–2024 and 2024–2025, totaling 32% and 10% increases, respectively, for recovery of R351 billion and R381 billion. Eskom is permitted by Nersa to collect R318 billion in 2023–2024 and R352 billion in 2024–2025.
Nersa states that the choice was made in the face of challenging economic conditions, such as high-interest rates, slow development, significant unemployment, and load shedding. It stated that in figuring out the hikes, it tried to strike a compromise between these diverse considerations and Eskom’s service requirements.Nhlanhla Gumede, a regulator member for electricity, explained the rationale behind the approvals by stating that there were numerous challenges and issues that needed to be resolved during the process of determining a fair increase.
The regulator was “between a rock and a hard place” in deciding the grantable rise, he continued, adding that it was a complex problem. The regulator’s methodology is used to make the decision, but the methodology itself is dependent on the pertinent legislation, which has different objectives. This covers safeguarding infrastructure, stimulating investment, and advancing equity. It also covers safeguarding end users.Eskom’s excessive use of its open-cycle gas turbines, or abuse, as some on the committee described it, was a significant issue raised by the electrical subcommittee, accordingto Gumede (OCGT). To keep the grid steady, these turbines should only be operated during peak hours and in an emergency.Meanwhile, Eskom has relied primarily on OCGTs as its main source of power.