South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a "State of Disaster" due to the country's electricity crisis during his annual State of the Nation address in Cape Town.
This follows just 10 months after the Covid-induced ‘State of Disaster’ was lifted.
Ramaphosa also announced that an electricity minister would be appointed to deal with the matter more effectively and urgently.
The new minister would assume full responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the electricity crisis response, including the work of the National Energy Crisis Committee, he said.
"The energy crisis is an existential threat to our economy and social fabric. We must spare no effort and we must allow no delay in implementing these measures.
"Our country has, for many months, endured a debilitating electricity shortage that has caused immense damage to our economy. Now, persistent load shedding is impeding our recovery from the effects of these events," Ramaphosa said in parliament as he outlined steps to address the power shortage.
The crisis left the state-owned Eskom, the sole electricity supplier, financially crippled amid rampant looting and corruption for over a decade now.
The regular massive breakdowns at power stations have led to unprecedented load shedding, with households and business facing scheduled blackout sessions for up to 12 hours a day at times.
"We know that without a reliable supply of electricity our efforts towards an inclusive economy that creates jobs and reduces poverty will not succeed," Ramaphosa conceded amid growing nationwide protests over the crisis.
"Under these conditions, we cannot proceed as we usually would. Our most immediate priority is to restore energy security," the President said as he gave details of the "State of Disaster" that went into effect immediately.
To fully implement the plan, he stressed the need for strong central coordination and decisive action. "In a time of crisis, we need a single point of command and a single line of march." Ramaphosa said the imposition of the "State of Disaster" will enable the government to exempt critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from load shedding.
Large parts of the country are also facing limited or no water supply, sometimes for days on end, because pumping infrastructure cannot operate during load shedding.
He said that with the imposition of a "state of disaster", the government would also be able to accelerate energy projects and limit regulatory requirements while maintaining rigorous environmental protections, procurement principles and technical standards.
To guard against widespread corruption during the Covid-induced State of Disaster, the Auditor-General will be brought in to ensure continuous monitoring of expenditure.
Once an internationally-respected electricity supplier that received global awards, Eskom had skilled employees leaving in droves as cadre deployments and affirmative action targets saw them being replaced by people not suitably qualified for the jobs.
Now, Ramaphosa said, Eskom is rebuilding the skills that have been lost and has already recruited skilled personnel at senior levels to be deployed at underperforming power stations.
The Engineering Council of South Africa has also offered to give as much assistance as required by deploying engineers to work with the management teams at power stations.
Other measures to address the situation included a programme to buy excess power from private generators and Eskom has already secured 300 MW from neighbouring countries.
"The South African Police Service has established a dedicated team with senior leadership to deal with the pervasive corruption and theft at several power stations that have contributed to the poor performance of these stations.
"Intelligence-driven operations at Eskom-related sites have so far resulted in 43 arrests," Ramaphosa said.
He added that later this year, the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill will be tabled to transform the energy sector and establish a competitive electricity market.
"One of the potent reforms we have embarked upon is to allow private developers to generate electricity. There are now more than 100 projects, which are expected to provide over 9,000 MW of new capacity over time," the South African president said.
Ramaphosa said that in the Budget Speech later this month, the Minister of Finance will outline how households will be assisted and how businesses will be able to benefit from a tax incentive to install solar power.