Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga residents are bracing themselves for Tropical Storm Eloise, which is expected to hit the local shores on Sunday.
Heavy rains and floods are expected to lash the Mopani and Vhembe districts, among other parts of the country.
The two municipalities say they are prepared for any disaster that may occur and are working closely with the national disaster management team.
Mopani District Spokesperson, Odas Ngobeni, says they have roped in the health, and environmental health practitioners to make sure that the municipality observes lockdown regulations such as social distancing, in cases where individuals may be required to be evacuated to community halls.
The Vhembe District Municipality Spokesperson, Matodzi Ralushai, is urging community members to remain vigilant at all times.
In KwaZulu-Natal, meteorologist Mkhushulwa Msimango says the cyclone could wreak havoc in parts of the province.
Msimango is also warning people to be extra careful on Sunday and Monday.
Meanwhile, power utility, Eskom, says it has made contingency plans to mitigate any risks and the possible impact on infrastructure and the provision of electricity.
Mpumalanga, where most of the power utility’s power stations are situated, is one of the areas expected to be hard hit by the storm. Eskom Spokesperson, Sikonathi Mantshantsha, says the power stations will implement wet coal contingency plans should the need arise.
“Typically, heavy rainfall for four or less days does not pose a significant threat to power station operations, but continuous heavy rainfall for more than four days does hamper coal handling at the power stations and the mines supplying them. There are some power stations in the Mpumalanga area that have been experiencing ash dam constraints. Continuous heavy rainfall over these power stations could hamper operations and recovery efforts already under way,” says Mantshantsha.
Disaster management authorities in Mpumalanga are also on high alert.
The cyclone is currently lashing parts of Mozambique. – Additional reporting by Maputuland FM News Editor, Philani Zulu.
The Department of Environment, Forest and Fisheries (DEFF) is taking Eskom to court over alleged failure to comply with air pollution standards.
The power utility’s Kendal Power Station is at the centre of the legal tussle. Officials allegedly supplied falsified and misleading information in reports to an Air Quality Officer at the power station, violating Section 51 (1) (g) of the Air Quality Act.
The alleged offense took place between 2018 and 2019. Eskom representatives have been summoned to appear in the Malahleni Regional Court on 28 January 2021.
According to energy expert Chris Yelland, the power utility could be fined up to R10 million and implicated officials could be jailed for up to 10 years – if found guilty.
The power utility has confirmed the receipt of the summons.
Spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha says the organisation is charged with three counts, including exceeding emissions limit on air pollutants.
In May, Minister Barbara Creecy ordered the shutting down of one the two units of the Kendal Power Station found to have been posing serious health risks to surrounding communities, while corrective measures were being taken to ensure compliance with the Kendal’s Atmospheric Emissions License.
Greenpeace Africa has welcomed the Department of Environmental Affairs and Fisheries’ move to lay criminal charges against Eskom.
The court case comes amid another looming legal showdown between environmental justice groups and the government.
GroundWork and the Vukani Environmental Movement have lodge an application to the High Court in Pretoria to declare that the poor air quality in the Highveld Priority Area, in Mpumalanga, constitutes a violation of the Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being of residents.
“Every day, people living and working on the Mpumalanga Highveld are breathing toxic, polluted air that is harmful to their health and well-being. This is the basis of the Deadly Air case, which will be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on 17 to 19 May 2021,” the organisations say.
“Living in Witbank, one of the most polluted areas in the country, has hugely affected our health and lives. Both government and industry have continuously failed to deal with the problem, irrespective of our efforts to engage with them to ensure they take steps to protect human health. Together with groundWork, Vukani has decided to use litigation to push government to take urgent steps to deal with the high air pollution and in the interest of our health and to protect our right to clean air”, says Vusi Mabaso, Chairperson of Vukani.
The applicants are represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Prof David Boyd, was admitted as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case by the Pretoria High Court in early November. Professor Boyd is represented by Lawyers for Human Rights.
According to the organisations, Mpumalanga accounts for about 83% of South Africa’s coal production, and Eskom owns the 12 coal-fired power plants located in the area in and around the HPA. The area has been plagued with deadly air quality for decades, with the high concentration of coal-fired power plants in the province, Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plant located in Secunda, and the NatRef refinery in Sasolburg contributing large amounts of pollution.
Greenpeace Africa has also been complaining about the country’s Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emissions for years.
Over a week ago – while welcoming a sharp drop in the emissions in 2019 – the organisation raised concern that they were still well above the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It highlighted that the decrease was not due to any proactive action by the government to curb South Africa’s air pollution crisis. Instead, it believes, the temporary reduction in coal-fired power generation, which led to load shedding, could have played a role in it.
Greenpeace has identified the Kriel area in Mpumalanga as a global hotspot for SO2 emissions, and is still a global hotspot by annual emission amount. It says it is also the largest hotspot in Africa and the largest hotspot driven by coal combustion worldwide.
Below are the organisation’s demands to reduce emissions:
President Cyril Ramaphosa to halt all investment in fossil fuels and shift to safer, more sustainable energy sources, such as wind and solar,
Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy to strengthen SO2 emissions standards by reinstating South Africa’s 500 mg/Nm3 minimum emission standard and applying flue gas pollution control technology at power plants, smelters, and other industrial SO2 emitters,
South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer, Dr Thuli Khumalo, to enforce existing minimum emission standards,
Minister Creecy to hold carbon majors accountable for their emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels by implementing and enforcing national environmental legislation,
Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe to revise the commitments made in the Integrated Energy Plan and,
abandon plans for installing new coal-fired power stations of 1500 MW capacity scheduled for 2023 and 2027, and
increase uptake and implementation of renewable energy generation capacity through radical and deliberate policies and programmes, and
Minister Jackson Mthembu to ensure the development of a comprehensive and inclusive Just Transition programme that moves the country away from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Eskom says it will ramp-up efforts to collect monies owed to it by municipalities.
The remark follows a high court judgment, affirming the power utility’s right to cut power to defaulting municipalities.
The case had been brought before the High Court in Johannesburg by Pioneer Foods.
The company sought to review and set aside a 2018 decision to interrupt electricity supply to the Walter Sisulu Municipality due to its failure to pay Eskom.
The court ruled that Pioneer Foods had no standing in the electricity supply agreement between Eskom and the municipality, and dismissed the application with costs.
It held that before a third party approaches a court due to unhappiness with Eskom, it should first demonstrate that it had exhausted internal remedies by approaching the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa).
The power utility is describing the ruling as a landmark judgment, affirming the validity and lawfulness of its rights, powers and entitlement to cut power to non-paying municipalities.
“Eskom welcomes this landmark judgment as the court has set the important legal principle that Eskom is only obliged to supply electricity to paying customers,” the electricity supplier says in a statement.
Municipalities owe Eskom more than R31 billion and the frustrated power utility says the growing debt is threatening its sustainability.
Eskom has applied for leave to appeal a high court judgment in favour of the Maluti A Phofung Local Municipality, in the Free State.
On Friday, the Free State Division of the High Court ordered the power utility to immediately lift the attachment of the municipality’s bank account.
Eskom had attached the bank account due to non-payment. The Maluti A Phofung Local Municipality owes the state-owned electricity company R5.4 billion.
In a statement, Eskom says the move was an execution of a 2018 court order and part of the company’s revenue recovery strategy.
“The Municipality’s continuous non-payment of their current account is resulting in further escalation of their overdue debt and poses a serious threat to Eskom’s financial viability and the survival of the utility. The increasing debt owed by Maluti A Phofung forces Eskom to take drastic steps to address this undeniable risk.”