/ 10 February 2023

Mantashe’s hopes of controlling Eskom dashed as a new minister is set to take over

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Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Gallo

Despite the minister of minerals and energy Gwede Mantashe’s call at the elective conference for the ANC to return Eskom to his department, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address (Sona) signalled the unlikelihood of this happening.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa announced that a new ministerial position will be created in the presidency to deal with the energy crisis and work closely with Eskom management to end load-shedding, which is crippling the country’s economic activity.

“Within the ANC, there is a new debate that says energy and mining must be split. They will split energy from my department [of mineral resources and energy] then say they are taking Eskom to energy in terms of the resolution from the ANC conference,” Mantashe said last month.

Ramaphosa said public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan would remain Eskom’s shareholder representative and steer Eskom‘s restructuring, ensuring the establishment of the transmission company to oversee the implementation of the just energy transition programme.

This move by Ramaphosa took away whatever hope Mantashe had of taking charge of Eskom. Mantashe had been looking for solutions to the energy crisis. In December in an interview with eNCA, Mantashe claimed he would be able to find solutions for the utility in six to 12 months’ time.

M&G reported that Mantashe said he was unaffected by the decision. “I cannot be unhappy with an announcement that does not impact the department. I would be worried if we were told you’re breaking mining and energy. That’s not what was announced.”

Concerns concerning an electricity minister

M&G asked a number of leaders for their views on the decision to create a new ministerial position. 

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who is taking the government to court for the impact of load-shedding on the country, questioned why there was a need for an additional minister. “Why can’t [the president] appoint a director general who is an engineer that will assist him in his office?”

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse chief executive, Wayne Duvenhage, said a new minister would not solve the problem. “Now we have three ministries looking after Eskom and DMRE and the third ministry of electricity is just throwing people at the problem. It’s not dealing with the issues of inefficiencies in those two offices.”

Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Velenkosini Hlabisa said there was no need for a new minister as it would open opportunities for irrelevant portfolios. “We might end up with a minister of potholes, a minister of pit toilets. All we need is a minister that will deal with minerals and energy, and resolve the crisis around electricity.”

Business Leadership SA (BLSA) said that the appointment of a minister of electricity within the presidency to oversee implementation of the energy action plan was a “bold move”, but also expressed concern that the energy sector would be governed by three ministries.

“Delineating clear responsibilities will be important, particularly between the ministers of energy and electricity. We hope the new minister will be able to accelerate the processes needed to address both the short-term imperative of addressing load-shedding and the longer-term need to increase the country’s electricity generation capacity at a faster pace,” BLSA said.

On Friday, Business Unity South Africa chief executive Cas Coovadia said the appointment of a minister for electricity in the office of the president is a bad idea that will add to the confusion and turf wars rather than solve the problem. “It is yet another example of failure to take bold decisions and opting instead for the soft, but expensive, option of adding another ministry rather than holding those ministers responsible for the crisis accountable.”

State of disaster

In his address, Ramaphosa also announced that to help implement the energy plan, the country would be placed under a national state of disaster.

“In a time of crisis, we need a single point of command and a single line of march. Just as we address the cause of the crisis, we also need to address its impact. The crisis has progressively evolved to affect every part of society,” Ramaphosa said.

He said under the state of disaster, critical infrastructure like hospitals and water treatment plants would also be exempt from load-shedding — if technically feasible.

This move was widely criticised by industry experts who argued that Eskom’s situation could’ve been dealt with, without declaring the state of disaster. Others, like political economist Lisa Thompson, said the state of the disaster would protect the country from complete economic collapse.

“At least we may be protected from complete economic disaster over the coming year … that’s sort of a national state of security blanket,” she said.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa