Electricity minister’s failures and successes

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s first nine months as South Africa’s electricity minister have seen several triumphs and challenges, including backpedalling on his claim that load-shedding would be a thing of the past by the end of 2023.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Ramokgopa as electricity minister in March 2023, giving him the responsibility of ending load-shedding and implementing the Energy Action Plan.

“This is a transitory ministry that is going to be focussed, hands-on, on helping us to resolve the energy crisis,” the President said when he announced Ramokgopa’s appointment.

Ramokgopa is working with the Eskom board and the power utility’s management to implement the Energy Action Plan, which includes:

  • Fixing Eskom and improving the availability of existing supply
  • Enabling and accelerating private investment in generation capacity
  • Accelerating procurement of new capacity from renewables, gas, and battery storage
  • Helping businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar
  • Transforming the electricity sector to secure long-term energy security

One of Ramokgopa’s first actions as electricity minister was to approach China’s ambassador to South Africa for help with ending load-shedding.

They discussed several areas of collaboration, including demand-side management interventions, introducing micro-grids, and emergency power.

Ramokgopa’s discussions with the ambassador led to China providing petrol generators to be installed at South African police stations, hospitals, and clinics nationwide.

However, these generators weren’t what the public expected, resulting in the initiative receiving heavy criticism.

The minister shared photos of the donated generators on Twitter (now X). However, it wasn’t possible to discern the generators’ specifications from the images.

Ramokgopa previously said the generators would range from 6kW to 200kW when he announced that he had secured the donation.

“200kW can support a clinic and a medium-sized hospital, so this is true relief to the South African people,” he said.

However, based on the images shared, the larger units don’t appear to have arrived yet.

Chen Xiaodong, Chinese ambassador to South Africa (left), and Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, South Africa’s electricity minister (right), shaking hands in front of donated generators.

Ramokgopa revealed his plan to stop load-shedding in April 2023. It involved unlocking untapped capacity and focusing on maintaining Eskom power stations.

However, he emphasised that the state-owned power utility — which has a significant amount of debt that is expensive to service — must spend more money to transition to newer, more efficient technologies.

Ramokgopa also faced the challenge of a power struggle between himself, energy minister Gwede Mantashe, and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan over the powers the President was to transfer to his portfolio.

Mantashe reportedly went so far as to give Ramaphosa an ultimatum to fire him rather than transfer his procurement powers to Ramokgopa.

Ramaphosa allocated a range of powers to the electricity minister to help address the nation’s energy crisis in May 2023.

“This proclamation will provide the minister of electricity with the powers necessary to direct the procurement of new generation capacity and ensure security of supply,” the Presidency said in the statement.

Regarding unlocking untapped capacity at power stations, the minister explained that Kendal Power Station, for example, could provide an additional 1,000MW of previously untapped generation capacity.

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, Minister of Electricity, at Kendal Power Station.

“Kendal is meant to give us about 4,116MW, and the energy availability factor is sitting at 46.75%,” Ramokgopa said.

“Because they are having great difficulty in meeting their emissions level, they have to slow down [generation].”

Ramokgopa said a further 1,000MW was available if the station could run at its maximum capacity.

Despite the high cost, he also said his plan would help reduce load-shedding significantly by September 2023, and be a thing of the past by the end of the year.

He backtracked on his ambitious deadline when he told a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee that it would be impossible to stop the rotational power cuts by the end of the year.

However, he reiterated that load-shedding would end sooner than anticipated.

Going into 2024, the ANC wants to allocate more powers to the electricity minister, according to secretary-general Fikile Mbalula.

“He will be allocated more powers,” Mbalula said. “You can’t manage a sector or a crisis without powers.”

“He has been given generation powers, which were taken from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.”

“The most important thing is to have power in order to be in a position to direct what needs to happen without asking from somebody else,” he added.

Now read: Load-shedding hurting small restaurants on Uber Eats

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Electricity minister’s failures and successes