Labour unions have welcomed the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruling that has ordered the minister of electricity to ensure by the end of January that hospitals and clinics, public schools and police stations, including satellite stations, are exempted from load shedding.
Judge Norman Davis in a judgment on Friday found that the government had dismally failed the country and its people. The judgment followed an application by political, labour and community organisations to stop Eskom from continuing with load shedding.
Reacting to the ruling, South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) general secretary Dr Cedric Sihlangu said the ruling was a significant step towards protecting patients’ rights and upholding the integrity of the healthcare system.
“Ensuring continuous power supply to health-care facilities is paramount for the preservation of human life and the uninterrupted delivery of critical medical services. Rolling blackouts pose an unacceptable risk to patient care, compromising life-supporting systems, emergency services, and essential medical procedures.”
Sihlangu added that they commended the court for recognising the detrimental impact of power outages on health services and for taking decisive action to safeguard the lives and well-being of both patients and health-care workers.
“Reliable electricity supply in hospitals is a non-negotiable necessity, not a luxury. Samatu urges the government and relevant parties to prioritise the implementation of this ruling, to invest in sustainable and reliable energy solutions for health-care facilities, and to ensure that, even during challenging times, the health sector remains functional and secure.”
Cosatu’s acting national spokesperson, Matthew Parks, said the court had reaffirmed the progressive values of the Constitution and society’s rights flowing from it.
“The challenge will be for the government to put in place the resources and interventions to realise this constitutional right.”
Ntokozo Nxumalo, National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union’s KwaZulu-Natal deputy provincial secretary said that the ruling by the Gauteng High Court was certainly good news for the health and education sectors.
“We can’t have our children subjected to load shedding when they are writing exams or learning. Our health facilities also can’t afford to have load shedding as they are providing life saving treatment for our people.”
Nxumalo added that the health facilities already face so many challenges with ageing infrastructure.
“The infrastructure is so old at hospitals and clinics and we can’t be adding load shedding to the problems. Some of the health facilities don’t even have generators.
“We welcome the court decision and we also want the government to come up with a plan to end load shedding as it is destroying our economy.
“We are all affected and we can’t allow job losses to continue due to load shedding. We ask the government to not appeal the high court decisions as this will only waste public funds.”
Professor Labby Ramrathan, from the School of Education Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that the judgment was welcome news.
“It provides stability for teaching and learning at schools, especially those that use digital technologies. The ruling by the high court will also put pressure on Eskom and the government to resolve the current energy crisis and perhaps to prevent future electricity crises.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government will take the necessary steps to ensure hospitals and schools are not impacted by rolling blackouts.
Responding to media questions on the sidelines of the UN COP28 climate summit in Dubai on Saturday, Ramaphosa said: “The judgment really speaks to what we want to see done. We want our schools, we want our hospitals to have the requisite amount of energy, so for us it’s a confirmation of our government programme.”