Former Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter warned that widespread load-shedding exemptions would pose a serious and unacceptable risk of a national blackout, but a recent court ruling ignored his caution.
On Friday, the North Gauteng High Court ruled hospitals, clinics, state schools, and police stations should not be subject to load-shedding.
In his ruling, Judge Norman Davis ordered the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, to “take all reasonable steps” within 60 days to ensure these facilities do not endure power cuts.
The judgment said the state failed in its constitutional and statutory duties to ensure citizens’ rights to healthcare, security, and education.
The case was brought by 19 applicants against Eskom, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and others to declare load-shedding unconstitutional.
The applicants include the UDM, Action SA, the IFP, BOSA, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).
Apart from widespread load-shedding exemptions, they want the president, ministers, and the South African government to be held responsible for load-shedding and its impact on society.
Judgment was reserved on this part of the case.
The first part of the judgement, which provides numerous load-shedding exemptions, ignored De Ruyter’s warning that it will put the electricity grid at tremendous risk.
The former Eskom CEO explained that the exempted facilities are embedded in distribution networks containing other residential and non-residential loads.
To exclude them from load-shedding, you must exclude the other customers who share those distribution networks.
“To continue to supply an embedded customer with electricity requires continuing to supply all the other upstream customers on the distribution line as well,” he said.
Eskom prevents a total grid collapse and national blackout by balancing electricity supply and demand.
If the electricity supply must be maintained to exempted facilities and those who share the grid with them, there will be far more severe load-shedding elsewhere on the grid.
“The sheer number and geographical distribution of facilities they seek to exclude from load-shedding would effectively mean that there can be no load-shedding in the country,” he said.
“This presents a dire risk for South Africa, as Eskom implements load-shedding as a measure of last resort to prevent a power system blackout.”
De Ruyter warned that excluding the proposed facilities “presents a manifest risk of grid collapse or blackout”.
“How long such a blackout would last is impossible to predict with any certainty. The consequences of such a blackout would be catastrophic.”
During a blackout, people can expect the loss of water supply and sewerage treatment, the shutdown of telephone and internet services, and petrol and diesel shortages.
Digital platforms, including payment platforms and automatic teller machines, will stop running, and there will be a shortage of hard currency.
There will be chaos on the roads, shops and residents will struggle to keep produce fresh, and food supplies will be impacted. There is also a high risk of looting, vandalism, and public unrest.
“Self-evidently, a blackout is a risk South Africa cannot afford to take,” De Ruyter said. “During the period of a blackout, the country would suffer immense human and economic harm.”