The Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, says that his department will appeal a recent court order exempting hospitals, clinics, schools and police stations from load shedding.
On Friday, 6 May, the Pretoria High Court ordered the minister to take ‘all reasonable steps within 60 days’ to stabilise the power of the electricity supply to certain entities during severe rolling blackouts.
The court ruled that buildings or areas cannot be exempted from the electricity grid unless they can be isolated without risking the stability of the national electricity network.
It added that in cases where isolation is not possible, the responsible party must arrange for alternative power sources, such as generators.
The judgment follows major public backlash from political parties, civil society organisations and labour unions.
Gordhan has expressed serious concerns over the implications of the ruling on the current efforts to stabilise the national grid and get the court out of load shedding.
“The department has studied the ruling and has 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,” said Gordhan.
“While the department respects the independence of the courts, in this case, the department believes that judgment would have unintended consequences and undermined 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.”
Eskom’s legal team is also expected to review and comment on the judgment in due course.
Gordhan is not alone in opposing the exemption, with many energy analysts and researchers calling it non-sensical and lacking in rationale.
Wayne Duvenage, the CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), commented that the court ruling would not be very effective. He said that arranging for alternative power supplies like generators would be expensive.
Energy analyst Alwie Lester further criticised the court ruling, stating that it was impractical and lacked reasoning.
He pointed out that the costs of implementing the ruling could become overwhelming, especially due to the sheer number of schools, hospitals, and other institutions across the country.
Even the former CEO of the power utility, Andre De Ruyter, opposed such a decision prior to the court ruling, noting that to support such an initiative, essential maintenance would have to be put on the back burner at Eskom – ultimately making load shedding last longer.