Johannesburg January 24 2023: South Africa’s biggest labor union and three opposition parties sued the nation’s president, the energy and public enterprises ministries and power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. over their approach to ending a 15-year energy crisis.
The lawsuit, filed in the High Court in the capital, Pretoria, seeks a wide range of remedies including the exemption of all hospitals, small businesses and agriculture from electricity outages to the release of documents regarding the non-performance of two coal-fired plants that ran billions of dollars over budget. The legal action also seeks to have the planned shutdown of coal-fired facilities reconsidered.
The case, one of at least four filed against the government or its institutions over the power cuts and electricity tariffs, adds to pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to ease the country’s worst ever blackouts with outages imposed every day so far this month and on 205 days last year. While it’s uncertain what the prospects of success are for the cases, they heighten the focus on the governing African National Congress’s failure to provide basic services just over a year before the country holds elections.
The case was filed by 19 applicants including opposition parties Build One South Africa, the United Democratic Movement and ActionSA, as well as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. It lists eight respondents including Eskom, Ramaphosa, the government departments and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa.
Ramaphosa’s office declined to comment, as did the Department of Public Enterprises. The energy department and Eskom didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment, while the regulator said it would comment later.
If the applicants succeed in having the power cuts interdicted, Eskom would need to halt essential maintenance that would lead to worse blackouts, Andre de Ruyter, the utility’s chief executive officer, said earlier this month after the initial threat of legal action was made.
South Africa’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has filed a case demanding that an 18.7% power-tariff increase granted to Eskom by Nersa be scrapped and plans a march to the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg on Wednesday to protest the crisis.
Solidarity, a labor union, has sued Nersa, demanding the regulator make it easier for private companies to produce electricity. Environmental group The Green Connection and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute have sued Ramaphosa and the energy minister, demanding that they come up with a better plan to develop energy-generation capacity.
In the remote Northern Cape province, farmers this month drove pickup trucks, combine harvesters and tractors through small towns with banners saying “no power = no food,” a reference to their inability to irrigate their crops because of regular blackouts.