Load-shedding, a method of power reduction used by Eskom, has been a frequent occurrence in South Africa. It has severely affected essential services, including hospitals, police stations, and schools. In response, nineteen organisations, such as civil society organisations, trade unions, and political parties, have taken legal action to exempt these critical sectors from rotational power cuts. The United Democratic Movement, National Union of Metalworkers, Action SA, and Build One SA, among others, have approached the Pretoria High Court, demanding that the government protect public facilities from Eskom’s power cuts.
The organisations are represented by a team of nine lawyers who accuse Eskom, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the public enterprises and energy departments of failing their constitutional and statutory obligations. They argue that Eskom’s load-shedding has created a “humanitarian crisis” in the country. Other entities involved include the Soweto Crisis Committee, Democracy in Action, and the SA Unemployed People’s Movement.
While critical services struggle due to power cuts, cabinet ministers receive a generous utility allowance for their official residences. The government recently withdrew a ministerial handbook change that gave cabinet ministers an unlimited allowance for utilities, including water and electricity. The changes took effect on 13 April 2022, despite the cabinet members receiving pay cheques of R200,000 a month.
The effects of load-shedding have been felt across the country, with Gauteng Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland announcing a shift to virtual court hearings in January 2023 due to ongoing power cuts at the Johannesburg High Court. Sutherland explained that continued power cuts were impacting High Court proceedings as it did not have a reliable generator to cover the periods of outages. However, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) later said that the court’s generators were in good working order and that a lack of fuel was to blame.
Emergency medical service (EMS) ER24 has also noted that traffic resulting from Eskom’s rotational power cuts could increase emergency response times. Additionally, unstable cellular networks often result in emergency calls failing to connect, further contributing to the challenge of attending to emergencies during power cuts.
Load-shedding has had a severe impact on essential services in South Africa, and the legal action taken by these organisations is a step towards protecting the most vulnerable sectors from the power cuts.