Battle lines drawn in SA’s energy wars

Is Eskom’s CEO André de Ruyter a hero trying to fix our broken utility, or a villain, responsible for plunging us into repeated load shedding? It depends on who you talk to. But one thing is clear, there’s a battle raging around him.

There are three issues. 

  1. A blame game

De Ruyter’s critics point to a report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research showing that 2020 saw the worst load-shedding since 2007, on De Ruyter’s watch. Eskom countered that the situation was so bad because maintenance was chronically neglected. De Ruyter has also alleged that sabotage occurred at Lethabo Power Station in the Free State; he released photos last week to prove the claim and it an attack against him and his management, City Press reported. He has called on law enforcement to intervene. 

  1. The war against renewable energy

De Ruyter and his boss, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, want to move to renewables – pronto. 🌞 Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe? Not so much. 🦕 The pushback against ditching coal is noble on one hand, since it aims to protect vulnerable workers and towns that rely on the coal industry. But on the other hand are vested interests who make loads of money – legally and in corrupt ways – from non-renewable energy sources. 

For example, Mantashe accused De Ruyter of failing to sign emergency power contracts to avoid loadshedding. But he’s basically pushing the controversial Karpowership company we’ve told you about before; that matter is in court, with allegations of corruption being made against Mantashe’s department. 🤷🏽‍♀️

  1. SA’s R130 billion climate funding deal

Mantashe is not impressed by the breakthrough deal SA landed at the recent global climate conference, and even snubbed a meeting with the funders. The deal is contingent on the country phasing out its dependence on coal.

The funding isn’t without its issues. A report by Investec shows the approximately R130 billion falls short of the R180 billion needed to upgrade Eskom’s network to switch to renewable sources. And private power suppliers – our great hope after coal – won’t spend a cent until SA has the full amount in hand, to ensure the power they produce can actually be connected. 

But that doesn’t make Mantashe right either. He is continuing with plans to build two new small coal-fired power stations, vowing to fight off court action by activists and saying this is a test of clean coal technology. 😶

The upshot?

The battle around SA’s move to a green future is in full swing. It’s complex with genuine concerns plus plenty of dodgy manoeuvrings that are not to be trusted. Expect to hear a lot more about this as we transition. We’ll be sure to keep guiding you through it all. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 25 November 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.