Business Maverick


Load shedding — it’s just a stage we’re going through

Load shedding — it’s just a stage we’re going through
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

We have, I suspect, all heard it at least once before. Sir Humphrey Appleby, of the UK comedy series Yes Minister, explaining the four-stage strategy for getting out of a political jam.

Stage 1: We say nothing is going to happen.

Stage 2: We say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.

Stage 3: We say maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do.

Stage 4: We say maybe there was something, but it’s too late now.

The series was supposed to demonstrate how the civil service actually wields the real power in government and Sir Humphrey was the epitome of this characteristic. He was sophisticated, went to the right university, and unfailingly agreed with politicians – and went straight off and did the opposite. His “stages” have an eerie echo in Eskom’s load-shedding schedule. 

If the series were made in SA, I think it would go roughly like this:

Stage 1: We say nothing bad is going to happen, and it’s typical of the opposition parties to claim there is a problem.

Stage 2: We say there may be a problem, but we need a long investigation to find out. The people doing the study have to be members or supporters of the ANC. They will need to be paid.

Stage 3: Years later, the study comes out and says maybe we should do something but we just have to work out the externalities (ie, which party members are going to get paid and how much for what).

Stage 4: We are doing something, but we are not quite sure what it is.

Stage 5: It turns out that what we were doing was not the thing we were supposed to be doing, but we are going to carry on doing it.

Stage 6: You cannot blame us for what happened because it was some other minister’s responsibility.

This last stage came to pass last week, when Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told News24 it was unfair that he was being blamed for load shedding. 

“It’s unfair to place blame on myself or the government. What should I do with Eskom as mineral resources and energy minister? The power utility is a matter [that falls] under Public Enterprises,” said Mantashe.

Unfortunately for Mantashe, it is not unfair at all, because he signed a performance agreement with his President, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2019 stating that he is very explicitly responsible for securing the supply of electricity. One of his agreements is to: “Improve energy availability factor to ensure a constant supply of electricity.” The agreement is marked “secret”, but it’s not.

His specific responsibility in this regard is to “create maintenance space for Eskom by augmenting supply with 2,000MW of emergency power, additional power from IPPs and generation for own use in line with IRP 2019. Implement the Integrated Resource Plan 2019.” There are more than a dozen of these specific responsibilities outlined with the aim of ensuring a constant supply of electricity.

As it happens, Mantashe has actually gone some way to achieving the first target, which makes it even more bewildering that he claims no responsibility for load shedding. The preferred bidders for the programme were announced a year ago. How could Mantashe forget? 

But even after a year, the financial close for projects has been delayed, with Bid Window 5 projects currently scheduled to close on a staggered basis in July and September. Only three of the 15 projects have signed power purchase and implementation agreements with Eskom and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, following several delays.

It turns out there have been two problems. The first is that prices have gone up substantially between the initial bid date and now because of global inflation. The second is that the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition has put its oar into the process by deciding that the solar panels have to be made locally, or something similar. Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel claims a “pragmatic solution” has to be found. But when you hear that you just know that what he means is the bidders must do what the department decides is pragmatic.

Trust me, SA has practically no competitive advantage in manufacturing solar panels locally. In fact, there is a competitive advantage in not producing panels locally, because both the US and China are using their citizens’ taxes to subsidise the production of solar panels. Buying Chinese solar panels is equivalent to Chinese citizens paying us their tax.

What you fail to understand is the enormous lack of urgency. It just infects everything. But anyway, this is all mostly irrelevant because an extra two gigs will be helpful but it’s not a solution.

Energy specialist Anton Eberhard on Monday tweeted a slide that was made in an Eskom presentation by the then MD of Eskom’s system operations, Kannan Lakmeeharan, on 18 May 2010.

 Lakmeeharan said SA needed to create 50GW of new electricity capacity by 2028, which was at the time a doubling of current requirements. If SA didn’t – and now hear this – there would be two periods when the risk of supply interruptions would increase significantly: 2011-13 and 2018-2024.

Just for the record, Eberhard said Lakmeeharan was one of the excellent Eskom executives who left when the State Capture cabal moved in.

Pity we never listened to him. I just wonder what Sir Humphrey would advise now. DM/BM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Brandon VE says:

    Do whatever it takes to get more power on the grid as soon as possible. That’s all that needs to happen.
    It’s insane that under stage 6 anyone is still thinking about using the electricity pandemic to either create jobs or tenderpreneur.

  • Rob vZ says:

    Minister of Energy claims electricity supply is not his mandate. Minister of Trade claims solar panels must be made locally. How did these clowns ever get a job? Oh yes, the “struggle”…

    • Alley Cat says:

      And I read somewhere that the locally made solar panels are 20% more expensive???
      Had a similar problem quoting industrial product to Eskom. They and the DTI insisted on a locally manufactured product which was 3 times the price. Go figure. No wonder we are in the Poo!
      And the so called local content is a joke.. where are we supposed to source bulky metal castings locally? Nearly all the foundries have shut down and those that are still in business don’t have any power?

  • Change is Good says:

    Manufacturing solar panels in South Africa should be a long term transition plan, based on a well thought out process. Stalling the signing off of the remainder of 15 IPP’s with this as an excuse is exasperating.
    The DA were right to place a motion of no confidence on the whole Cabinet. Why does this circus think they are special in some way, that expert advice counts for nothing. Oh I forgot, corruption is the ANC government’s mandate and experts do not fit into that mandate.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    In a “normal” country, Mantashe would be unemployed.

  • Johan Buys says:

    People need to self-provision electricity as much as they can. We already do so for education, health, security and in many places water too. Africa is not for sissies that wait.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Table 5 of the IRP 2019 Plan says it all. It is easily found on google to download. Every year there is new capacity added and some coal capacity removed. What is missing is a curve showing overall power each year after the inclusion of new solar, wind and other sources and the decommissioning of the old power stations. Also missing is the progress each year of this (non) achievement. As this is a summary there has to have been (this is Gwede though) detailed project plans with key milestones to achieve these objectives which require monitoring and reporting back to know we are proceeding to plan. Medupi and Kusile are perfect examples where actual plans were shown under duress and look at the mess that was. So instead of everyone grasping at statements we are 2, 4, 6 or 8 GW short of new capacity the Government (Cyrils PM team ) must give us the true status of where we stand. It is this new capacity which is needed to stop load shedding. Eskom are fighting fires to keep the existing plant running. Oh by the way in the notes on the IRP 2019 table 5 says short term capacity gap is 2 GW, so we started this with a major problem already.

  • Charles Parr says:

    This should be uncomfortable reading for Gwede, and by extension CR, but this probably is not covered in the communist theories. And that’s why we will stay here until they get their bribe factory, Karpowerships, going.

  • Arnold Krüger says:

    ANC rule is just a stage we are going through…… the end is nigh

  • virginia crawford says:

    I bet Mantashe and all his crooked cronies have got generators. The are incompetent, unscrupulous and pitiless. I would say that Gwede Mantashe is the worst minister, but there is such stiff competition.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    The electricity crisis should immediately be declared a national emergency, and the measures recommended by the National Planning Commission should be urgently implemented to stop the continuing worsening of the crisis. The new generation capacity needs to be developed and brought online as urgently as possible, the continuing worsening damage from load shedding needs to be ended. The National Planning Commission and other experts have identified viable approaches to get out of this crisis, their recommendations now need to be immediately implemented, and the continuing dithering of government, especially by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, needs to stop now. The regulatory red tape needs to be dramatically simplified, and we need to dramatically develop new capacity as urgently as possible. Viet Nam built 9GW of generation capacity in a year, and it is critical that that sort of focus and urgency be placed on bringing on the required new generation capacity. We cannot continue with the current collapsing electricity system.

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