Cape Town - The court judgment ordering an uninterrupted supply of electricity to hospitals, schools and police stations would “undermine” efforts to balance the protection of the rights of South Africans with the need to stabilise and protect the grid infrastructure, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said.
On Monday, in announcing the department’s intent to lodge an urgent appeal to set aside the High Court in Pretoria judgment, Gordhan said they had serious concerns about the implications of the ruling on the current efforts to stabilise the national grid and get the country out of load shedding.
“While the department respects the independence of the courts, in this case the department believes that the judgment would have unintended consequences and undermine the very efforts to balance the protection of the rights that were ventilated in this case, with the need to stabilise and protect our grid infrastructure," Gordhan said.
The high court on Friday ordered the government to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply to all government hospitals, clinics, schools and police stations following an application by the UDM, Action SA, Bosa and other political and civic organisations.
In it, the organisations argued the government and Eskom violated basic human rights by implementing load shedding that has knocked critical areas of the economy such as hospitals.
The court gave Gordhan 60 days to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply to these facilities.
Judge Norman Davis, who wrote the judgment, said in cases where sites could not be isolated from the grid to exempt them from load shedding, arrangements must be made for alternative power supply to these government institutions, such as generators.
“We find that there have been repeated breaches by the state of its Constitutional and statutory duties and that these infringe on citizen’s rights to healthcare, security and education,” Davis said.
Gordhan on Monday said that the department had studied the ruling and “determined through legal advice that the prudent step to take is to lodge an appeal to set aside the ruling and allow for the ongoing efforts to end load shedding to proceed without putting undue risk on the country’s grid infrastructure”.
Bosa spokesperson Sbu Zondi said the government must stop wasting taxpayer’s money on court cases and deliver electricity to its citizens.
“We originally brought the matter to court based on the gross violation of human rights, not only in the health, educational and security sectors, but across all spheres of South African society,” Zondi said.
“The fact that the court not only concurred, but, while showing deference to the separation of powers, was damning in its condemnation of the government's derogation of its duty, provided all South Africans with a sense of imminent restoration of justice and reinstatement of their human rights.”
A professor of technology management at the University of Pretoria, David Richard Walwyn, said although the court's decision was laudable, it may be impossible to implement in the short term, and uneconomic in the longer term.
“To exclude schools and hospitals from load shedding would require individual connections or cables from main substations to literally thousands of unique sites.
“It would be more practical for Eskom to provide standby generators, using diesel, to hospitals and perhaps, some of the schools. Even this step would cost more than Eskom can currently afford, and would open more opportunities for the theft of diesel and generating equipment.
“It was inevitable that Eskom would appeal the judgment,” he said.
Energy activist Peter Becker said the responsibility to exempt hospitals, schools and police stations in many cases rested with municipalities, some of which were already dysfunctional and did not have the staff, equipment or budget needed to modify the distribution infrastructure as necessary to comply with the court order.
“It would be good to know the total government, and in particular the Department of Mineral Resources (DMRE), will spend on pointlessly defending and appealing legal action,” he said.