Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane on Tuessday reassured the public that student l.
The poor must shoulder a disproportionate burden from Eskom's electricty supply crisis, which was foist on them by wealthy industry and a government hellbent on growth at any cost, activists said at a meeting this week.
GroundWork, an environmental justice NGO, staged the event in Johannesburg to release its 2007 yearly review, Peak Poison: The elite energy crisis and environmental justice.
The presentation at Wits University's school of engineering was mostly attended by unionists and activists concerned by the linked effects of the electricity supply crisis on the poor and on the environment.
No surprise the report for last year focused on energy shortages, rocketing prices and the cost to the environment of relaxed safeguards as Eskom builds more dirty coal-fired and nuclear generating stations.
But even the sympathetic in the audience were taken aback by the heavy cost on the poor that the authors sketched.
They blame the government policy of subsidising heavy industry with the cheapest electricity in the world for the rocketing demand that caused the blackouts. Now that rationing is being imposed, the authors say the poor will pay a higher cost than the wealthy and industries.
The government claims it is the victim of its own success in expanding the economy. Demand grew so fast it was caught unawares by insufficient generating capacity.
Now everyone - industry, business and residential users alike - is being called on to cut back consumption by 10percent.
"Rationing, we are told, will enforce a 10percent reduction benchmarked against metered consumption in 2007," said Bobby Peek, GroundWork's national director.
"Rich households with air-conditioners and heaters, multiple appliances, flat-screen TVs, large geysers and swimming pools will have bigger rations than poor households, [which] have not had enough for more than four or five lights and the TV.
"The recklessly wasteful consumers, those with money to burn, will also have larger rights than those who have already conserved energy. They will need to do little more than alter the timing on the swimming pool pump and switch off a few appliances between use.
"The crisis has highlighted the social nature of electric power," he said.
Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told South Africans in his Budget speech that we are all in this together, "but the way the government is doing it, 'together' makes some more equal than others," Peek said.
The poor spent a far higher proportion of their income on food, transport and household energy than the rich. But all these items were affected by the rising price of energy
"If we are looking for a more equal society, then the starting point should be that everyone has an equal ration."
Peek also said it appeared residences were being rationed so the government could continue to attract energy and capitalintensive industry.
The report also said the government appeared unwilling to involve the public in discussion about the crisis and only talked to the big corporations.
GroundWork sounded an alarm against the contraction of the programme to provide a free basic supply of electricity because of the crisis.
Activists at the meeting said cutbacks were already underway in municipalities such as Emfuleni on the Vaal.
Tristen Taylor, EarthLife Africa's energy policy officer, told the gathering that residential electricity was a social good and not a commodity that could be left to the market to regulate.
"We are depriving 30 percent of our population of a basic social need," he said.
The 50 kilowatt-hours of free electricity given to poor households was a joke and was used up by most in a week.