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Success of Ramaphosa’s energy action plan hinges on effective implementation, say business and labour

Success of Ramaphosa’s energy action plan hinges on effective implementation, say business and labour
From left: CEO of Business Unity South Africa Cas Coovadia. | Head of the Policy Unit at Cosatu Lebogang Mulaisi. | Business Maverick journalist Ray Mahlaka. (Photos: Supplied)

In a Daily Maverick webinar on Thursday, representatives of organised labour and business agreed that the key to the success of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recently announced energy action plan depends on its timeous and effective implementation.

“We need to work together to implement,” said Cas Coovadia, the CEO of Business Unity South Africa (Busa). He was responding to a question put to him by Business Maverick’s Ray Mahlaka on Thursday in a Daily Maverick webinar. Lebogang Mulaisi, the head of the Policy Unit at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) shared similar sentiments. 

The trio was discussing President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recently announced “energy action plan” to end rolling blackouts and place South Africa on a trajectory towards sustainable energy security, and whether the plan went far enough, could do what it was pitched to do and what potential obstacles lay ahead.   

Daily Maverick previously reported that Ramaphosa announced a set of actions to respond to South Africa’s yearslong energy crisis. The planned actions include improving the performance of Eskom’s fleet of power stations, increasing and accelerating the procurement of new generation capacity and increasing the participation of private actors in the electricity sector.

Here it is: Ramaphosa’s ‘energy action plan’ to end SA’s rolling blackouts

Asked whether the plan goes far enough to address the energy crisis, Mulaisi said: “What I think the plan does and what it was meant to do was to address a crisis. And I think that’s just what it does. It’s helping us to kind of build the building blocks on how to address the current crises. 

“We know the ripple effect that load shedding has on our society is not good for a country that’s coming out of a post-pandemic recovery trajectory. It can’t be good for business, it can’t be good for growth, and if those things come together in a melting pot where there’s high poverty, high unemployment, high inequality, it’s just an implosion waiting to happen, so I think we can agree on the fact that it helps us to address the current challenges.” 

She added, however, that the plan had its shortcomings, notably the omission of the issue of Eskom’s roughly R396-billion debt.  

“We can bring in all the private sector participation that we want to bring into the system, Eskom still remains critical. It remains critical for expanding electricity, particularly to poor and indigent communities. So we need to keep that organisation intact.” 

Coovadia said that he and Busa were “guardedly optimistic” about the plan. He went on to say: “We think that the plan is a good one, we think that it begins to address the critical issues that need to be addressed to ensure that we have a more sustainable, cleaner, more effective and efficient energy infrastructure and architecture in our country. 

“And I agree that part of that has got to be Eskom. But we need to look at Eskom restructuring within the context of a role for Eskom, not the role for Eskom. The Eskom management itself is quite clear that we need a more diversified energy architecture and that Eskom has a critical role to play in that, but not the sort of monopolistic role which it has been playing up to now.”  

Cognisant of the country’s woeful history of policy implementation paralysis, Mahlaka asked the panellists about the potential challenge this may present in achieving the desired outcomes of the energy action plan and what had spurred the newfound urgency to tackle a power supply shortfall that at least three presidents have overseen.   


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 Rolling blackouts

Coovadia responded that the recent severe bout of rolling blackouts had undoubtedly contributed to the overdue appreciation of the severity and urgency of the crisis. The focus, he said, should now be on the implementation of the plan.  

“I think there’s a plan that does identify the right issue, then the issue now for me and for business is that we need to bring appropriate capacity to bear, and work together to actually implement it, because that’s the other failing that we have, both in our government but in the country generally.

“We have good plans, but when it comes to implementation, we seem to fall down. We can’t allow that to happen with this plan. We have, again, publicly indicated that we are prepared to work with the government to bring capacity to bear to help implement this,” said the Busa CEO.  

Mulaisi said the plan needed to find greater alignment with an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) — the country’s energy blueprint — and South Africa’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — the country’s target greenhouse gas emissions range.  

“Assuming that we do all of this correctly, best-case scenario in the short to medium term: you should be able to sort out the crisis. 

“My concern is that if we don’t couple this with the necessary provisions of an updated and revised IRP that is in line with our ambitions when it comes to the nationally determined contributions that we have presented to the previous COPs [climate change conferences] … and we don’t align all of these policy interventions with this [energy action] plan — the IRP and the NDCs — if you don’t do this very well, we might find ourselves in the long term in a situation where again it’s a situation of load shedding. 

“You have to do what you said you’re going to do, otherwise this train will pass us by, which is probably one of the things that concern me the most when it comes to planning for energy,” said Mulaisi.  

“So, in the short to medium term, if you do everything right, or if you do most of the things right, we should be okay. But I think what our concern should also be is the long-term planning.” DM

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