Storm brewing over South Africa’s renewable push: report

 ·25 Jun 2023

Senior government officials are at loggerheads over South Africa’s proposed transition to renewable energy.

According to The Sunday Times, Minister of Mineral Resources and Resources Gwede Mantashe snubbed a meeting with the prime ministers from Denmark and the Netherlands to launch a $1 billion (R18 billion) green-energy project.

The fund will look at Green Hydrogen energy, with South Africa’s wind and solar resources and industrial capacity positioning it as a key producer of green fuel, which will ultimately replace natural gas.

It is also believed Netherlands and Denmark could soon join the $8.5 billion Just Energy Transition project with Germany, the US, the UK, France and South Africa that is set to launch soon.

However, instead of attending the event to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the two international leaders, Mantashe was in Boksburg at a Cosatu event – with International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor signing the MOU in his stead.

Mantashe, a firm supporter of coal-based electricity generation, said that he did not attend the event as he had not read the MOU.

“I didn’t say I’m not available to sign. I said I don’t sign an agreement I have not seen, that’s all I said. For me, that is a principle issue. You want me to sign an MOU, you give me that MOU to read and understand then I sign it,” Mantashe said.

“Leave the presidential minute; I’m told the morning of the meeting that ‘at 11am you are signing an MOU’. I ask: ‘What is the MOU? I am not signing an MOU I have not read.’”

Despite Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya’s attempts to play down the situation, Presidency insiders said that the President was furious with Mantashe for not attending the event.

Too many ministers in the kitchen

The latest incident is yet another example of senior government officials not being on the same page regarding South Africa’s energy transition and load shedding crisis.

In April, the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) warned that there were too many cooks in the kitchen in regard to South Africa’s energy matters, and Eskom in particular.

Following the appointment of electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa earlier this year, Eskom has to deal with three separate ministers directly, including Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Moreover, the entity also has to deal with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana for its debt relief package and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy for adding new generation capacity to the grid.

However, even Pandor is now also involved in dealing with energy matters.

Although a large number of senior government officials dealing with a single matter is not inherently wrong, the government’s messaging has regularly contradicted itself.

Following a widespread tour of South Africa’s power stations, Ramokopga said that it was vital that the lifespan of coal stations be extended to resolve the energy crisis.

At the same time, the energy department gazetted a new phase of renewable energy procurement as per the Integrated Resource Plan for 2019 (IRP19) – which aims to eventually decommission all coal power stations.

In addition, although the transition to green energy should bring in large billions worth of investment in South Africa, Public Enterprises Minister has said that these plans should be reviewed and potentially renegotiated.

“This incoherence is a predictable outcome of too many ministers being tasked with finding solutions for arguably South Africa’s biggest crisis,” the BER said.

Read: The key to beating load shedding: expert

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