South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of disaster with immediate effect to deal with the country’s severe electricity crisis including prolonged daily power blackouts.
“Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. The energy crisis is an existential threat to our economy and social fabric,” said Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address on Thursday night.
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The declaration of a state of disaster comes as rolling power cuts of up to eight hours per day are hitting homes, factories and businesses across the nation of 60 million. The state of disaster is an emergency measure previously implemented to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the deadly floods that killed more than 400 people last year.
According to Ramaphosa, the declaration will enable his government to exempt essential services like hospitals and water treatment plants from power blackouts and enable the government to buy additional power from neighbouring countries on an emergency basis.
It will also enable the government to assist businesses to deal with the effects of widespread power cuts, including making diesel-powered generators and solar panels more widely available.
The country’s power utility Eskom is unable to produce adequate power due to frequent breakdowns at its ageing coal-fired power stations and years of corruption.
Ramaphosa also announced that he will appoint a minister of electricity, whose sole focus would be to deal with the electricity crisis.
Ramaphosa’s speech was delayed by 45 minutes after disruptions by members of parliament from the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party, who were eventually removed from the sitting by security personnel.
He is expected to reshuffle his cabinet following the resignation of Deputy President David Mabuza and changes in the leadership of the ruling African National Congress party. Ramaphosa is expected to appoint newly elected ANC deputy president Paul Mashatile to replace Mabuza.