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Human Rights Commission and Trade Unions join in calls for urgent power crisis resolution

21 January 2008 – -The South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has called South Africa’s ongoing electricity crisis "a human right violation".

Jacob Maroga

Eskom’s CEO, Jacob Maroga

In a press release last week, the SAHRC said it, in conjunction with the public protector, would investigate why Eskom had instituted power cuts to the extent that it had recently.

"The Commission is concerned about news reports that load-shedding as is currently being implemented by Eskom, is negatively affecting the provision of essential services and by extension human rights."

In a letter to the public protector, the SAHRC said it was compelled to make its concerns known, especially in so far as access to information was concerned.

"It is clear that Eskom is not providing adequate, accurate and timeous information to consumers to allow them to plan their lives and businesses around the load-shedding schedule," said the SAHRC.

"It has also been mooted that there is no equitable load-shedding across all areas."

Emergency services, police, hospitals and health care facilities have all be negatively affected by the recent power cuts.

"The SAHRC would be pleased to participate, within the confines of its mandate, in the Public Protector’s process of engagement on this matter," the letter to the protector read. In terms of its constitution, the SAHRC has the power to investigate and report on the observance of human rights, and to take steps to redress any imbalance.

"These include the power to call any other person to appear before it and produce to it all articles or documents in his or her possession or under his or her control and which may be necessary in connection with such an investigation," it said.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) has also issued a statement regarding the power crisis in South Africa.

"It has become a serious national embarrassment and could have a major impact on economic growth and job creation," said Patrick Craven, Cosatu spokesperson.

"We demand that at the very least Eskom communicate far more effectively with the public to inform us in good time when power will go off and for how long," said Craven.

Cosatu were, however, quite clear that Eskom were not to blame for the crisis.

"They warned the government years ago that they needed money to invest in new power stations, and applied to the government for this. "But the government refused to provide the money, which President Mbeki has now admitted and apologised for," Craven said. The government’s privatisation plans for Eskom and other utilities, Cosatu claims the government made "the supplier inefficient".

"We demand that the government and industry now speed up the process of providing Eskom with the money they need for capital investment, so that we can bring an end to the crisis as quickly as possible."