SONA focuses on power crisis
Cape Town - Energy, land, and the economy were at the forefront of President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address on Thursday night, which was delayed by a number of disruptions.
Zuma started speaking much later than the scheduled 7pm start after opposition MPs protested about a jamming device that blocked the cellphone signal and prevented the media from filing from the National Assembly.
When his address finally got under way, EFF MPs rose on a point of order, demanding to know when Zuma would pay back the money related to the Nkandla scandal. This resulted in the EFF being thrown out of the House.
After security forces entered the National Assembly to remove EFF MPs, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane wanted to know from the Speaker whether the men in white shirts who were summoned were police officers. The DA then left the House in protest when they didn’t get a satisfactory answer.
When Zuma resumed, he said that stabilising Eskom’s finances was a priority and the power utility would be given R23 billion in the next fiscal year to do so.
This, after the country had suffered different stages of load shedding over the past few weeks.
He acknowledged South Africa was experiencing serious energy constraints.
“These are an impediment to economic growth, and are a major inconvenience to everyone in the country.”
Overcoming the problem was uppermost in government’s priorities.
“We are doing everything we can to resolve the energy challenge.”
Cabinet was working “round the clock” with Eskom to stabilise the electricity supply system and contain load shedding.
It appears the government has had a rethink on nuclear power being the main driver to ensure reliable sources of energy.
Zuma was clear during his State of the Nation address that gas would play a bigger role in energy generation.
“Eskom has been directed to switch from diesel to gas as a source of energy for the utility’s generators (to avoid blackouts).”
Households were also being encouraged to move from electricity to gas.
While the government has said in the past it will pursue a variety of options, nuclear power has been punted the most, including by ministers.
France, the US, China, South Korea and Russia are bidding to come on as partners for nuclear generation.
“We want to connect the first unit by 2013… when Eskom retires its (first) ageing power plant,” he said.
New gas generation will commence in the first quarter of the new financial year.
South Africa is surrounded by a number of gas-rich countries and shale gas has been located in the Karoo.
Zuma said that South Africa’s economy needed “a major push forward”.
The country’s aim of achieving a growth target of 5 percent in 2019 was at risk he warned. Zuma noted that the International Monetary Fund had this week revised down its global economic growth forecast to 3.5 percent for 2015.
“Our ambition of achieving a growth target of 5 percent by 2019 is at risk because of the slow global growth, as well as domestic constraints in energy, skills, transport and logistics amongst others.”
However, the situation was more promising on the jobs front.
“Two days ago, StatsSA released the employment figures for the last quarter of 2014. They show that there are now 15.3 million people who are employed in South Africa. Jobs grew by two hundred and three thousand.”
On his target of six million job opportunities over five years, announced last year, he said so far 850 000 “work opportunities” had been created.
The government had a nine-point plan to “ignite growth and create jobs”.
This included, among other things, resolving the country’s energy challenge, revitalising agriculture, advancing the beneficiation of minerals and encouraging private sector investment.
Zuma acknowledged land was a critical factor in achieving redress for the wrongs of the past.
The government would introduce a number of changes to speed up land reform in the country, including setting a ceiling of land ownership at a maximum of 12 000ha.
He said foreigners would not be allowed to own land in South Africa, but would be eligible for long-term leases.
The government has come under increasing pressure for the exceedingly slow pace of land reform. One of the stumbling blocks has been the willing buyer, willing seller concept. Farmers have refused to sell land to the state as they have not been offered the prices they want. Frustrated communities have started invading unoccupied state and private land.
“The process of establishing the Office of the Valuer-General is under way, which is established in terms of the Property Valuation Act. Once implemented, the law will stop the reliance on the willing buyer, willing seller method in respect of land acquisition by the state,” Zuma said.
He said the government was also working with the private sector to develop an agricultural policy action plan to bring one million hectares of under-utilised land into full production over the next three years.
A major concern has been that communities, who have received land, do not have the know-how nor have they been given the correct assistance to develop their land.
Last year the government reopened the second window for land claims. More than 36 000 claims have been lodged. The cut-off date is 2019.
He next spoke about corruption, saying the government had introduced 17 pieces of legislation to fight the scourge.
In the 2013/14 financial year, 52 persons were convicted in cases involving more than R5 million.
Thirty-one public servants were convicted in the first quarter of 2014/15 and freezing orders on their assets to the value of R430m were obtained.
Group Labour Editor