IRR demands answers on State of Disaster

Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s declaration of a State of Disaster is baffling, and requires clarification.

Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s declaration of a State of Disaster is baffling, and requires clarification.

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has written to the ministry demanding answers.

The disaster declaration appears to be based on the threat of “a total blackout” identified by the National Disaster Management Centre. This is in keeping with Section 23 of the Disaster Management Act (DMA), which allows a State of Disaster to be declared even if the disastrous event “merely threatens to occur”.

However, total blackout can be prevented without declaring a disaster, by boosting production through a few commonsense steps, as has been pointed out by the IRR.

One such step, recommended by former Director-General of Treasury, Dondo Mogajane, is to sell Medupi and Kusile to a business that is able to complete them. This would boost production and ease debt.

Another is to implement the State Capture Report recommendation that maximum value-for-money should be prioritised over BEE and localisation procurement preferences. A recent report by the Solidarity Research Institute (SRI) evaluates the BEE premium in Eskom spending to be roughly 27%.

Could the disaster declaration be valid even if basic methods of addressing a future threat have not been exhausted, like implementing recommendations by Mogojane and the State Capture Report?

Surprisingly, at first glance the answer could be yes. Section 27(1) of the DMA states that a Minister may declare a national state of disaster “if – (a) existing legislation and contingency arrangements are” basically inadequate “or (b) other special circumstances warrant the declaration”.

Dlamini-Zuma stated in the Government Gazette that her declaration is justified by “special circumstances”, meaning South Africa is under a State of Disaster to deal with an event that has not happened, without having exhausted other options, due to inscrutable “special circumstances”.

This alarming state of affairs demands answers. The IRR has asked Minister Dlamini-Zuma to clarify her position and insists that the mysterious “special circumstances” be spelled out exactly for the public to scrutinise within the next seven days.

The IRR has also requested that Dlamini-Zuma articulate what measures will be taken under the State of Disaster that could not been taken otherwise to address the “special circumstances”. This is needed to establish whether there is any rational connection between using the State of Disaster to abrogate democratic norms and the “circumstances” to be addressed.

Dlamini-Zuma’s record provides reason for concern. She used the previous State of Disaster to impose one of the world’s most prolonged and counterproductive lockdowns. She tried to delay the 2021 elections irrationally and banned tobacco sales too.

Says IRR Head of Campaigns Gabriel Crouse: “Just imagine the 2023 version of Dlamini-Zuma’s last botch, lockdowns to fight load-shedding. That is not a risk worth taking. Nor is the risk of Dlamini-Zuma using State of Disaster powers to partially conceal a Digital Vibes kind of shadowy procurement.”

Democracy dies in darkness, but here it could whither under the mere “threat” of a total blackout. If Dlamini-Zuma thinks special circumstances justify the abrogation of democratic norms, including parliamentary oversight on spending, she has a clear and urgent duty to explain what those special circumstances are and what specific solutions a State of Disaster would help to deliver.


Media contact: Gabriel Crouse, IRR Head of Campaigns – 082 510 0360;   

Media enquiries: Michael Morris Tel: 066 302 1968 Email: 

Sinalo Thuku, Tel: 073 932 8506 Email: