This is how many states of disaster have been declared in South Africa – and why

 ·5 Apr 2023

South Africa’s latest national state of disaster has come to an end just two months after it was declared.

The state of disaster was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 9 February 2023, and ended on 5 Arpil 2023, with nothing much to show for it.

Over the past 12 years, however, the government has declared eight national states of disaster, including six since the pandemic in 2020, for reasons such as Covid-19, drought, floods, and the latest being the electricity crisis.

This is according to The Outlier, which compiled the data from government gazettes and the annual reports from the National Disaster Management Centre.

The National Disaster Management Centre – which falls under the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs – is responsible for classifying an event as a disaster.

Typically these events are droughts, floods or severe storms, but they can be anything that can cause death, injury, disease, damage property, or disrupt livelihoods, said The Outlier.

According to the data, there were two national states of disaster before the Covid-19 pandemic, one in 2011 due to flooding and another in 2018 during a drought. The state of disaster for a drought in KwaZulu-Natal between 2016 and 2017 lasted 343 days.

Since the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic, however, South Africa has declared a total of six national states of disaster, including the one in 2020 tied directly to the outbreak that lasted a record 750 days.

The others included one for a drought in 2020, another one for a tropical storm in 2021, two for flooding in 2022 and 2023, and one for the electricity crisis in 2023.

During the 2022 floods, which resulted in the deaths of 461 people, the national state of disaster lasted 122 days.

The Outlier also provided the data for provincial states of disasters, which showed 35 declarations over the past 12 years – mostly due to droughts and flooding.

A provincial state of disaster is when a disaster affects more than one metropolitan or district municipality in the same province, said The Outlier.

A state of disaster is meant to enable local, provincial or national government departments to take charge and manage the disaster. Classifying it as a disaster is meant to ensure there is accountability and people are assisted without delay, said The Outlier.

Therefore, if existing legislation is not enough to alleviate the effects of a disaster or there are special circumstances, then the head of the National Disaster Management Centre will declare a state of disaster, it added.

Power-inducted state of disaster is over

In February 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared load shedding a national state of disaster during his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Ramaphosa said that the declaration would provide practical measures to support businesses, accelerate energy projects (such as solar, wind and green hydrogen), and limit regulatory requirements for the registration of energy projects and connect them to the grid – among other things.

However, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has now terminated the power crisis-induced national state of disaster.

The department gazetted the notice on Wednesday (5 April), which includes the termination from the department, as well as the revocation of the classification of the severe electricity supply constraint as a national disaster by the Head of the National Disaster Management Centre.

Over the period of the state of disaster, very little was actually done using the regulations it afforded the government.

A number of gazettes were issued by departments like Trade and Industry and Communications to open investigations into which entities could be exempt from load shedding – as well as exempting some businesses from competition clauses – but little else emerged.

Read: Eskom testing new plan to cut power demand from businesses and residential areas in South Africa

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