A healthy Mabuza appears in Parliament

In his first Parliamentary question and answer session in months, a presumably healthy and physically lively Deputy President David Mabuza appeared before a virtual sitting of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday.

It’s been some time since the second-in-command has appeared for a Q&A with MPs. His most recent scheduled sessions in August did not go ahead after his medical team told Parliament he would not be available for the sitting. 

Details on his exact medical condition were not made public.

But at the ANC’s national executive committee meeting last weekend, Mabuza said he was healthy and had already returned to work after being ill for a month.

In Parliament, Mabuza first addressed questions about ongoing rolling blackouts, as Eskom plunged the country into stage four load-shedding on Wednesday. This means many suburbs across the country will have two hours of no electricity as many as three times a day.

Mabuza echoed state-power utility Eskom’s assertion that power plants supplying the national electricity grid need urgent and ongoing maintenance. The deputy president described South Africa’s power stations as “old”, with ageing infrastructure “presenting a problem”.

“From time to time, given the pressure exerted on them, they fail. The leadership of Eskom came out openly to say they are not going to avoid load-shedding as they implement routine maintenance,” he said. 

But Mabuza said there was some light. The beleaguered Medupi power plant — which is already generating some power — looks set to come fully online at the end of 2020 after several delays. 

“South Africans must be confident because we are going to get out of this problem. Why? Because Medupi will begin to come online, and we are opening another window [for] independent power producers (IPPs). More than 2 000 megawatts will come from that direction, and hopefully, that will stabilise the system.” 

Asked by Democratic Alliance NCOP member Christiaan Smit about the government’s plans to continue with a nuclear-energy programme, Mabuza said South Africa currently could not afford it.

“We are facing challenges. Also, Covid-19 has taken us back. Our financial situation is not in a good state. It will be difficult to venture into new programmes. But I am aware in terms of our infrastructure build programme, some of these directed at energy supply are under consideration. We’ll do it with the government in partnership with the private sector.”

Addressing Covid corruption, Mabuza described how money siphoned off was disheartening. Covid-19 funds were supposed to buy personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers, government staff and schools, as well as used to offer financial relief for South Africans. 

On Wednesday the auditor general described how flaws in government systems led to widespread looting of Covid-19 relief funds. At the same time, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is investigating hundreds of PPE tenders across all spheres of government and state entities.

“We have put everything we can into fighting Covid-19. In the process, money was misappropriated. The president has already spoken about this, and the real answer is to be agile and be ready to confront these situations wherever they happen. That means we need strong institutions. We need to support the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] and all law-enforcement agencies,” the deputy president said. 

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