The new Minister of Electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, seems to open his mouth to change feet. His latest assertion, that the unbundling of ESKOM is not a priority, undermines years of work to open up South Africa’s electricity sector to independent power producers and highlights the ANC government’s unresolved confusion on how to solve the electricity crisis.
With one reckless remark, Ramokgopa has shown that his new portfolio was created without any real plan in place. That no one from the ANC government has called him to order, least of all, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office, confirms the long-held suspicion that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
The danger of Ramokgopa’s loose cannon tendencies on energy policy (a remit that actually belongs to Gwede Mantashe, about whom the less said the better), is that it will create further uncertainty among investors who have invested significant resources in independent power generation projects across the country. In the midst of a devastating electricity crisis, what South Africa needs is clear direction and policy certainty.
Independent experts have warned that any delays to unbundle Eskom will severely constrain an Independent Transmission System Operator’s ability to raise capital and do the much-needed grid investments to unlock new generation capacity. This was underscored in December 2023, when it was revealed that 23 green power projects in the last round of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme could not be awarded due to grid constraints. We must urgently invest in upgrading our grid infrastructure and building new transmission lines – something that just won’t happen, if Ramokgopa has his way.
President Ramaphosa’s promises to appoint an energy specialist with the technical know-how to address the electricity crisis head on have been rendered hollow after his appointment of yet another ANC cadre in the person of Ramokgopa. He has not only brushed away legitimate concerns about corruption at Eskom but now appears dead set on reversing whatever little reform has been made in the energy sector over the years.
With the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projecting that the South African economy will only grow by 0,1% due to the loadshedding crisis, the country needs adults in the room who have a technical appreciation of the problem and what needs to be done to address it. Sending mixed signals to energy investors will only make the problem worse and prolong the pain for South Africans who have been left in the dark for close to two decades. Ramaphosa must reign in Ramokgopa, and provide a clear set of expectations of exactly what he expects his Minister of Electricity to do.