Union threatens government with legal action for load-shedding – again

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said it would take the government to court again if it is not willing to reconnect the power stations and units it shut down as part of the Just Energy Transition (JET).

This is according to NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, who told SABC News that load-shedding undermines South Africa’s fundamental rights and is collapsing the economy, costing the country thousands of jobs.

NUMSA was one of the organisations involved in the multi-stakeholder court action that took the state to court over load-shedding. 

“We argued that the rolling blackouts were undermining the fundamental rights that are enshrined in the Constitution – where the state has a duty to provide education, access to healthcare, and guarantee safety,” Hlubi-Majola told SABC News. 

“The fact that we have these daily constant blackouts, also known as load-shedding, means that those rights are being undermined.”

Earlier this month, the North Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of NUMSA and the other stakeholders’ case, declaring that load-shedding violates human rights.

The court ordered Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to ensure hospitals, clinics, schools and police stations are unaffected.

This followed a similar ruling in May, where the same court ruled hospitals, clinics, state schools, and police stations should not be subject to load-shedding.

In his ruling, Judge Norman Davis ordered Public Enterprises Minister 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.

NUMSA believes that the government’s decision to shut down power stations and units as part of the country’s JET is a major reason for the country’s current energy crisis.

For example, Komati Power Station in Mpumalanga was decommissioned in 2022 to be converted into a renewable generation site.

Komati had nine generating units with a total installed capacity of 1,000 MW. However, before being decommissioned, only one 121 MW unit contributed to the country’s power grid.

“We have lost over 2,200 MW of power because our government took a decision to prematurely shut down units in power stations,” Hlubi-Majola said. 

“That decision, which NUMSA views as very reckless, is part of the reason why we endure such extreme levels of load-shedding.”

She said the government made this decision because they signed agreements with international finance institutions and as part of the Conference of the Parties (COP) that they would transition to renewable energy and stop relying on coal. 

However, she said the government volunteered to fast-track that process. 

“There’s nothing in the COP agreement that compels South Africa to fast-track its transition to renewable energy because we’re a developing nation,” she explained. 

“South Africa simply volunteered to do that under pressure from lobbyists from renewable energy lobby groups in this country.” 

“And they did so in a manner that was senseless, reckless, and without defining any clear plan as to what kind of backup energy we would use in the interim when they shut down these power stations prematurely.”

NUMSA believes the government “needs to go back to the drawing board”. 

“We need to go back and ensure that we invest in Eskom, that we make sure Eskom is operating optimally,” she said.

Part of that strategy involves reconnecting the units that were disconnected as part of the JET to guarantee energy supply. 

“We have coal in abundance. It’s a cheap form of energy and a form of energy that drives the economy,” she said. 

“Because we’re a developing nation that barely contributes to the levels of carbon, why should we be the ones to pay the price of that transition when, in fact, it should be the developed nations – Germany, England, America – that should be fast-tracking the transition to renewable energy, not South Africa.”

She said that if the government is unwilling to reconnect the power stations or units that have been shut down, “legal action is the next step”. 

She added that NUMSA is prepared to take the government to court to compel the authorities to guarantee energy access across all sectors.


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