Power to the people

John Steenhuisen says Ramaphosa's crisis plan vindicates each one of the DA’s four core principles for organizing society


28 July 2022

Fifteen years into the electricity crisis and 24 years after energy experts and the DA first warned government about looming power shortages, President Ramaphosa on Sunday announced an energy crisis plan that finally makes sense.

The plan is to open the electricity sector to independent power producers of all sizes and to fix Eskom by bringing back skilled engineers and holding malfeasance accountable. The DA and energy experts have been calling for this approach all along, and Andre De Ruyter has been calling for it since he became Eskom CEO.

Crucially, the plan vindicates each one of the DA’s four core principles for organizing society. The ANC-created energy crisis illustrates why each of these principles is an essential prerequisite for a successful South Africa.

Commitment to the rule of law

Eskom will not be fixed until corruption and sabotage are dealt with decisively and those who break the law are held accountable. Looters must be forced to pay back the money and saboteurs jailed for the destruction they have wreaked on society. Eskom has accumulated R400 billion of debt because corruption has been allowed to flourish unchecked. The utility was forced to resort to Stage 6 loadshedding because saboteurs knew they could get away with breaking the law in pursuit of their selfish interests.

The rule of law advances the common good and protects the weak against the mighty, preventing the abuse of power and empowering ordinary people. It promotes order, stability, fairness and economic growth. At the heart of the rule of law is the principle of accountability, which requires openness and transparency. This is why the DA has initiated a process for a parliamentary ad hoc committee to oversee President Ramaphosa’s new National Energy Crisis Committee (NECOM) established to drive his energy crisis plan.

The president has located the NECOM in the Office of the Presidency, the only ministry without a dedicated parliamentary oversight committee. The DA yesterday unveiled our 10-point action plan to improve parliament’s ability to hold the executive accountable, with a dedicated committee to oversee the Presidency being one of them. Even Chief Justice Zondo pointed out this omission in his report.

The president has centralized more and more power in his office, to the point that he has effectively outsourced power to a parallel cabinet that bypasses parliamentary accountability. His motivation may be that his own cabinet is simply incapable of solving South Africa’s energy and other problems. But nonetheless the centralization of power in the presidency is an extremely concerning trend that must be reversed. South Africa needs decentralized decision-making that brings power closer to people. Which brings us to the DA’s second core principle.

Commitment to a social market economy

A social market economy refers to an economy in which individuals, households and businesses rather than the government hold the decision-making power over what to purchase, where to invest, and how much to produce. Government has an important role to play in improving access to markets by championing open and competitive markets. The ANC has instead chosen to guard Eskom’s monopoly fiercely with a barricade of bureaucratic red tape because the utility has been their prime source of patronage and procurement corruption. 

The DA wants an open, competitive energy market where everyone is allowed to buy and sell, because this drives supply up and prices down. Opening the energy market to private producers will bring online a diversity of supply, making South Africa’s energy system more flexible (giving it the ability to adapt quickly to change) and therefore more resilient (giving it the ability to recover quickly from adversity), and more sustainable both from a financial and environmental point of view.

A market economy is all about empowerment. Empowering organisations, households and municipalities to generate and sell electricity provides people with more electrical power and also with more financial power, because it grows the economy and jobs. 

The energy crisis plan should have gone further and specifically removed all constraints on competent municipalities and metros from generating, buying and selling power. Nevertheless, DA governments haven’t sat around waiting for permission to do what is best for their residents, which is to purchase lowest-cost power where they can, to drive electricity prices down and supply up. Many are already making real progress towards energy security.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis announced this week that the City will pay cash for excess electricity sold back to the grid by commercial and industrial generators. This is a first in South Africa and will soon be rolled out to households too. DA-run Stellenbosch already gets over 5 MW of electricity from private and municipal solar panels and are eager for commercial and industrial generators to feed as much energy as they can back to the grid. DA-led Ekurhuleni has signed up over 40 independent producers. Other DA governments are following in these footsteps.

A market economy rather than a centrally controlled economy is all the more important in South Africa’s context of an incapable state, where government from the cabinet down simply lacks the capacity to solve problems, and where technical know-how resides mainly in the private sector. This brings us to the DA’s third core organizing principle for society.

Commitment to building a capable state

The plan to bring back skilled engineers who were pushed out of Eskom, and the formation of NECOM to drive the plan, reflects the importance of a capable state. The DA has long called for public appointments based on merit alone. Ability to deliver to the public must be the only consideration so that the poor, who are most reliant on the state, get the best possible service delivery at the lowest possible prices.

Building a capable state requires commitment to the principle of the separation of party and state. The Zondo Commission laid bare that the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment caused the state capture, corruption and hollowing out of capacity that sent Eskom into a death spiral taking South Africa’s economy with it. The DA is fighting in court to have cadre deployment declared unconstitutional and illegal, as per Chief Justice Zondo’s conclusion. It is shameful that President Ramaphosa has decided to use taxpayer money to defend this policy in court.

Commitment to nonracialism

The crisis plan shows that when the rubber hits the road, the ability of public servants to deliver is far more important than their race. Draining Eskom of highly skilled white engineers may have done wonders to grow the ANC’s patronage system, but it came at the expense of access to reliable, low-cost electricity for all, jobs for the unemployed, and a healthy growing fiscus. Real social transformation is about the latter.

The president’s plan should have gone further and waived all preferential procurement requirements for the energy sector, which add cost and complexity and greatly delay processes that are urgent. They may enrich a small, connected elite, but again this is at the expense of real transformation that requires low-cost energy and economic growth and access to opportunities for all. 

The DA agrees absolutely on the need for social transformation. SA’s high and racialized inequality is appalling and unacceptable. But short cuts like replacing engineers with cadres and tenders for pals is not the way to do it. President Ramaphosa’s R55 billion for 700 black industrialists has done nothing to pull 35 million South Africans out of deep poverty and comes at their expense. Real social transformation is set out in the Bill of Rights not in the BEE codes.


Why did energy shortages and Eskom debt have to reach crisis proportions before this plan was announced? It was introduced with great reluctance and only because South Africa’s energy system has been destroyed to the point where it is now hurting the ANC’s prospects for re-election. 

South Africa cannot afford to reach crisis point before we learn the lessons and bring the necessary change. Judge John Hlophe was finally suspended by the Judicial Service Commission this week, having done immeasurable harm to the Western Cape judiciary for twelve years. We don’t have the luxury of responding so slowly to matters that harm society.

The DA cares deeply about South Africa and we are committed to bringing real change that empowers all South Africans. We strive to implement our core principles where we govern, and we are striving to show that multi-party coalitions built around these core principles can bring the progress South Africa so needs. Today we are announcing a multi-party government for Nelson Mandela Bay, and in 2024 we hope to do the same for South Africa.

John Steenhuisen,

DA leader