Call for free elec­tric­ity is be­yond mind-bog­gling

Andile Mngxi­tama’s ut­ter­ances at the Soweto protest smack of pop­ulism

Pretoria News - - OPINION - LEHUMO SEJAPHALA BHEKIKHAYA MABASO | | Voices360 Sejaphala is an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and fi­nal-year law stu­dent at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

A WEEK in South Africa has proven to be in­suf­fi­cient for the coun­try’s dem­a­goguery pol­i­tics. And since we are in the age of amend­ments, per­haps we should also amend our cal­en­dar to make enough room for all the pol­i­tics of the coun­try.

Rem­i­nis­cent of the 1976 stu­dent upris­ing that brought an over­haul to the apartheid Bantu ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, Sowe­tans took to the streets this week to de­mand the pro­vi­sion of free elec­tric­ity from the state, ex­clu­sively for their town­ship. This is not­with­stand­ing the fact that Soweto owes Eskom more than R18 bil­lion in elec­tric­ity bills.

Not to be out­done, the leader of the de-reg­is­tered blacks only or­gan­i­sa­tion, Black First Land First (BLF), Andile Mngxi­tama, weighed in be­hind the Soweto free elec­tric­ity march, and, as al­ways, lam­pooned and la­belled those who did not sym­pa­thise with the march as “fools with a slave men­tal­ity”.

Mngxi­tama took the de­mand for free elec­tric­ity to its il­log­i­cal con­clu­sion, ar­gu­ing, as it were, that: “Peo­ple don’t know that there’s no man­u­fac­turer of coal, it’s a God-given prod­uct. You just go and take it out of the ground. God has given you coal for free. Just like if you move to clean en­ergy, be­ing so­lar and air – these things are for free.”

Prima fa­cie, Mngxi­tama’s ar­gu­ment ap­pears to have some merit to it, but it falls on its head once we start to con­sider the fact that coal needs to be mined un­der­ground by equip­ment that needs main­te­nance and labour, which must be re­mu­ner­ated.

You don’t have to be an en­ergy ex­pert to know that the process of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion re­quires more than just coal, as Mngxi­tama would have ev­ery­one be­lieve.

But from where does Soweto and Mngxi­tama’s claim of the right to free elec­tric­ity arise? The right to free elec­tric­ity cer­tainly does not arise from the supreme law of the repub­lic, nor any act of Par­lia­ment. It may well be a fig­ment of Mngxi­tama’s imag­i­na­tion.

While our Con­sti­tu­tion ex­pressly makes pro­vi­sion for: the right to have ac­cess to ad­e­quate hous­ing; the right to health care, food, wa­ter and so­cial se­cu­rity; and the right to ba­sic and fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, it does not ex­pressly make any men­tion of the right to free elec­tric­ity.

Ac­cord­ingly, the right to free elec­tric­ity cer­tainly can­not be as­sumed. It must be es­tab­lished. More­over, all the above-men­tioned so­cio-eco­nomic rights as en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion are qual­i­fied. For ex­am­ple, sec­tion 27 (2) states: “The state must take rea­son­able leg­isla­tive and other mea­sures, within its avail­able re­sources, to achieve the pro­gres­sive re­al­i­sa­tion of each of these rights.”

Es­sen­tially, what this means is that these rights are not ab­so­lute. They have their own in­ter­nal qual­i­fiers over and above Sec­tion 36 (com­monly known as the lim­i­ta­tion clause) in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

In the case of Soo­bra­money v Min­is­ter of Health, KwaZulu-Na­tal, for ex­am­ple, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court was called upon to deal with the right to health care as en­shrined in sec­tion 27 (1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

The ap­pli­cant, in this case, claimed the pro­vi­sion of kid­ney dial­y­sis treat­ment from a provin­cial state hos­pi­tal, based on his right to emer­gency med­i­cal treat­ment and his right to life on a sub­stan­tive read­ing.

The court dis­missed the claim based on these two rights. In do­ing so, the court stated that sec­tion 27(1)(a) was qual­i­fied by sec­tion 27(2), which in­ter alia, de­ter­mined that the state was only re­quired to give ef­fect to the sec­tion 27(1 )(a) right within its avail­able re­sources.

The court then found that the re­spon­dent had shown that it had lim­ited re­sources avail­able for the pro­vi­sion of kid­ney dial­y­sis treat­ment that did not al­low it to pro­vide the treat­ment to all who re­quired it.

The re­spon­dent had fur­ther shown that it had de­vel­oped a set of rea­son­able and fair cri­te­ria to de­cide who would re­ceive the lim­ited treat­ment avail­able and who would not, and that those cri­te­ria had been ap­plied in good faith in the case.

How­ever, to be fair to all the pro­po­nents of free elec­tric­ity de­mand, let us as­sume that the Con­sti­tu­tion made pro­vi­sion for free elec­tric­ity, but then pro­ceed to ask the ques­tion: Does the state have the ca­pac­ity or the means to re­alise the im­ple­men­ta­tion of such a right, even “pro­gres­sively”?

The an­swer is in the neg­a­tive. In his Bud­get speech, Min­is­ter of Fi­nance Tito Mboweni paints a dire pic­ture of our eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. The min­is­ter re­minded us of the fol­low­ing:

● For 2020/21, rev­enue is pro­jected to be R1.58 tril­lion or 29.2% of GDP. Ex­pen­di­ture is pro­jected at R1.95 tril­lion, or 36% of GDP. This means a con­sol­i­dated bud­get deficit of R370.5 bil­lion, or 6.8% of GDP in 2020/21.

● The to­tal gov­ern­ment debt bur­den now equals al­most 66% of South Africa’s to­tal econ­omy – and re­pay­ments on this debt are grow­ing by more than 12% a year.

● The gov­ern­ment will, over the next three years, al­lo­cate more than R112bn to Eskom to keep the sta­te­owned power sup­plier afloat.

How a per­son in this type of eco­nomic quag­mire can ar­gue for the pro­vi­sion of free elec­tric­ity is cer­tainly be­yond me.

As Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional De­vel­op­ment, Hon­ourable Ron­ald Lamola, posited in his de­bate speech for the State of the Na­tion Ad­dress: “As a mat­ter of his­tor­i­cal record, Mr Pres­i­dent, we are taught that when­ever re­forms are in­tro­duced and de­ci­sions are made, to press the re-set but­ton of any na­tion, dem­a­gogues, and op­por­tunists will al­ways seek to seize the op­por­tu­nity to mis­lead the masses. They will of­fer in­stant so­lu­tions that are far from re­al­ity.

“They do this by ap­por­tion­ing blame on the re­formist, by mak­ing un­guided and mis­in­formed pro­nounce­ments on mat­ters of gov­er­nance in gen­eral, and the econ­omy in par­tic­u­lar. They do so to pro­ject the re­formist lead­er­ship as sell-outs to the rev­o­lu­tion.”

| African News Agency (ANA)

SOWETO res­i­dents protest over ‘un­af­ford­able’ elec­tric­ity. The town­ship owes more than R18 bil­lion to Ek­som.

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