Cyril’s ‘State of Disaster’ grab is irrational, Courts will stop it – Solidarity’s Connie Mulder

Activist group Solidarity is determined to expose president Cyril Ramaphosa’s “State of Disaster” proposal as an ill-conceived and unnecessary power play that has everything to do with ANC politics and will do nothing to address SA’s energy crisis. Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute, explains why the organization is determined to prevent the action by approaching the courts. In this rational discussion with Alec Hogg of BizNews, he expresses shock at Ramaphosa’s contradictory State of the Nation address. He argues that instead of playing politics and costing taxpayers money with another unnecessary cabinet appointment, the president should act logically and fire his incompetent lieutenants.

Find timestamps for the interview below:

  • Connie Mulder on Ramaphosa declaring a state of disaster and going to the Courts – 00:50
  • On when a State of Disaster should be used – 02:45
  • On the potential of a grid collapse – 06:00
  • On the new minister of electricity and the real politics at work here – 11:05
  • On Andre De Ruyter’s resignation – 14:45
  • On the urgency of the interdict with the Court – 20:20
  • On whether a state of disaster enables a postponement of the 2024 elections – 21:30

Some extracts from the interview:

Connie Mulder on Ramaphosa declaring a state of disaster and going to the Courts

I wish we didn’t have to. Unfortunately, there are no options left. We were quite shocked, actually, to hear that they had declared a state of disaster because in the same speech President Ramaphosa announces says, “yes, all of these ministries already exist and all of these tools already exist, but they’re not coordinated centrally, therefore, we need the state of disaster to do that.” Now, that is hogwash. He’s the president, he is the central coordination. He doesn’t need a state of disaster to do any of this. I think our worry stems from the simple fact – a state of disaster gives the government immense power. We saw that with COVID. It is in truly immense power to do something that can already be done in existing legislation. And that is the frustration – if you’ve got useless ministers, which is exactly what we’ve got, Minister Mantashe, who’s been incompetent and useless in handling the energy crisis. The way out of that is to fire that useless minister, not to declare a state of disaster, to appoint another minister who now needs to once again try and solve this. That’s why we’re extremely worried. The analogy that we use is to say that what that set of disaster powers for the government would mean is if you’ve got an incompetent builder and you continue giving them bigger hammers, you’re not going to get a better building in the end. You’re just going to get more damage to the existing structure. And that is what a state of disaster entails – it gets rid of a lot of the oversight which we shouldn’t have. It doesn’t expedite things truly in the power situation and that much, if at all. And it once again opens the door for abuses of power that we’ve seen and we’ve had much too much of in this state of disaster. 

On when a State of Disaster should be used

The state of disaster is meant for an actual disaster, meaning a flood hits us, an earthquake, and the law is quite explicit on this, something that does not have existing legislative measures in place to handle it. So with the COVID pandemic, for example, you have a Department of Health. That’s true, but we do not have the capacity to handle a pandemic that hits the country, and that’s not part of the Department of Health’s mandate in any case. So the state of disaster made sense, at least in the first month, while figuring things out in that case. And the floods in Natal is another thing which is obviously a logistical disaster. You need access to quickly respond to that. A sixteen year long train crash that we’ve seen coming all the way with a whole ministry already devoted to it does not guarantee this.

In fact, if we’re talking about emergency procurement of powers, Mr. Mantashe can do that. He can do it tomorrow, let’s say the day after tomorrow. He first needs to consult with NERSA and confirm that there is indeed a power shortage. That should be a very short conversation. I cannot imagine that being that difficult. And then he can call it an emergency procurement, which he’s done in July 2020. He did exactly that, saying we need emergency power and start procuring the emergency power – get tenders out and do what you must. So everything that the president announced, even the tax incentive for solar panels, I’m getting a wholesale market.

All of that can be done within existing legislation. There is no reason other than political theater to now announce a state of disaster. From our perspective, he’s giving himself massive amounts of power once again, with no real upside to this. There’s no reason and there’s no actual natural disaster that we’re not prepared for. And this would be a minister not doing his job which is bad, but it’s not a disaster. It’s something that can be fixed by simply firing Minister Mantashe. This would be akin to saying we’ve got lots of potholes in our roads and trucks and cars are hitting them and there’s a lot of accidents so we’re going to declare a state of disaster on our roads. And then instead of just fixing the Ministry of Transport and getting them to do their job. And that is where our worry lies – the previous time we had a state of disaster, we need to remember, President Ramaphosa was an eloquent statesman in announcing it and everyone was sort of optimistic. And then we figured out that the guys who are implementing this are not going to be president Ramaphosa, it’s going to be Dlamini Zuma and Minister Mantashe and Gordhan will be involved at some point.

Those are the guys who are going to get this power and who are going to now implement solutions that haven’t worked in the past 16 years. Mr Mantashe is extremely hard up for getting either urban cycle gas turbines running or just fixing the coal plants, as if that’s something that can magically happen in a state of disaster. And we are going to move away from getting energy on the grid quickly. Everything he wants to do, he can already do. The existing legislation is there. If you’re not using the instruments correctly, having more instruments is not going to fix that. 

On the potential of a grid collapse

If the grid collapses, there will obviously be emergency services necessary. However, every single expert that we’ve talked to, in fact, the CEO of Eskom, the operational head of Eskom, stated explicitly, on the record, the grid collapsing is not a possibility at the moment. It’s very far off and a lot of things need to go wrong. So I don’t know who they’re consulting, but a total blackout is something that Eskom itself, as well as several energy experts just discount it and that it’s not going to happen. Jan Oberholzer said “we’ll shut off whole provinces before we have a total blackout”, which means it’s not a realistic situation or scenario. Obviously there’s a possibility, but it’s very small. You cannot declare a state of disaster proactively.

It means it’s by definition a reactive piece of legislation. So that means we can’t, for example, say we think a meteor might hit South Africa at some point in the future. Now we’re declaring a state of disaster to handle whatever happens. If the meteor happens, it sits. That also needs to happen for this legislation to be declared. The reason this is so important, because the government gets truly immense executive power. Suddenly parliament does not have oversight, the government can just gazette new regulations that immediately come into effect with full legislative and executive powers, meaning the police can arrest you. If you do not do something like this, you can be prosecuted, you can go to jail, as we saw with COVID. And there is very little that you can do to stop these regulations other than taking them to court. That’s how Minister Patel managed the extreme decision of saying warm chicken is a danger to society. And it took several challenges to actually get that overturned. But that warm chicken was still banned for almost a month. And now this is the situation that we are going into again. And the people who made the decisions you can go to, these guys who made all of these excellent decisions are now going to be making the decisions with very little oversight if the state of disaster continues with the energy crisis. 

On the new minister of electricity and the real politics at work here

Undoubtedly, it’s part of that. But the thing is, you and I saying we don’t think this minister will get the job done is one thing. The president saying that is actually a motion of no confidence in his own cabinet that he announced. But he has the power to fire these people. So the question should be, why is Minister Mantashe in your cabinet if he’s not doing his job, why aren’t you replacing him? The way to get around internal ANC politics is not to plunge the country into a state of disaster. It’s to get rid of non-performing ministers if you want to shuffle into another portfolio.

Any of that would have worked as well. Our worry is exactly that, as Mr. Mantashe is heavily invested in the coal industry from what we can see of the coal lobby. And if he comes with the idea that he’s not going to try and sabotage or obstruct the new minister, is something that we find, quite frankly, laughable. It’s not clearly defined – what this minister will be in charge of. And Minister Gordhan is still there and still going to be the shareholder responsible for Eskom or the person handling it as a shareholder. Mr Mantashe is most likely still going to be at energy – he is the one responsible for planning what capacity and what technology we use and gets added.

So this new minister of electricity will not be able to do anything else. If the President himself can’t overrule all these ministers, a new minister in the presidency is not going to do that. A state of disaster is not going to do that. You need to either get rid of the deadwood or we’re not going to succeed. For the ANC electorally or just in general survival, their funds might come from the coal, but their votes come from the public and there’s nothing that hits them as hard electorally as logic.

And that means as president, you rarely get the opportunity where you need to choose between good and bad. Most of the time the choices are between bad and worst, and unfortunately, we chose the worst option. The bad option would have been to get renewable energy online, open the market privatised. You would have taken some hits inside your party, that’s true, but the country would have been at a much lower level of loadshedding, even almost out of it when the election rolls around next year. So it just doesn’t make any sense, even from a political point of view, this has been the wrong choice. It’s once again, Ramaphosa choosing ANC unity over literally the country’s economic future.

And that says, from our perspective, there’s no chance that these guys are going to solve it. 

Read more:

(Visited 1,507 times, 11 visits today)