South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday declared a national “state of disaster” over his country’s crippling power shortages, saying they posed an existential threat to the economy and social fabric.
“We are in the grip of a profound energy crisis,” In his yearly address to parliament, Ramaphosa said, “The State of the Nation.” “The crisis has gradually spread to impact every aspect of society. Acting is necessary to lessen the crisis’ effects on farmers, small businesses, our water infrastructure, and our transportation system.”
The worst rolling blackouts ever are being carried out by the state electricity utility Eskom, leaving homes in the dark, disrupting production, and harming businesses of all sizes.
In the most industrialized country in Africa, the power outages are predicted to limit economic growth to just 0.3% this year.
Declaring a national state of disaster gives the government additional powers to respond to a crisis, including by permitting emergency procurement procedures with fewer bureaucratic delays and less oversight.
Health authorities were able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly thanks to the legislation, but some analysts are skeptical that the government will be able to expand power supply any faster.
“The catastrophe will make it possible for us… support businesses in the food production, storage and retail supply chain, including for the rollout of generators [and] solar panels,” Ramaphosa said.
The electricity shortage has been building for years due to delays in the construction of new coal-fired power plants, fraud in coal supply agreements, criminal sabotage, and a failure to loosen regulations to allow for the quick introduction of renewable energy by private providers.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa declared that he would name an electricity minister to the presidency whose sole responsibility would be the crisis. With planned investments of $84.52 billion over the following five years, he also promised to continue South Africa’s transition to cleaner energy, which is partially funded by donors.
He claimed that, within the bounds of available funds, the government was developing a system for providing targeted basic income support for the most vulnerable.
After opposition legislators, mostly from the extreme left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party, interfered with proceedings, Ramaphosa began speaking about 45 minutes later than scheduled. A number of EFF MPs attempted to storm the stage after being asked to leave by the speaker of the house before security stopped them.