South Africa


Minister of Electricity: A sucker for punishment’s dream job at the epicentre of SA’s all-encompassing pain

Minister of Electricity: A sucker for punishment’s dream job at the epicentre of SA’s all-encompassing pain
ANC MP Parks Tau. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leon Neal / Getty Images) | Former Gauteng premier David Makhura. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stated intention to appoint a new Minister of Electricity in the Presidency is clearly an attempt to speed up the resolution of our power crisis. This decision has many pitfalls — for a start, it is not clear who would be willing to take a position which would suddenly make them the national face of our most existential crisis.

Resolving our power crisis is intrinsically connected with so many of our pressing national issues. It involves dealing with corruption, incompetence, a shortage of money, political patronage and our economy, all of it in the space-time continuum of the 2024 national elections. If the power crisis is resolved, so will many other of South Africa’s problems be resolved — such is the immense pressure that will be placed on the shoulders of this single person.

In the hours after Ramaphosa’s announcement of a new electricity minister, the Presidency minister, Mondli Gungubele, made it clear that this new czar will have ultimate responsibility for dealing with the power crisis. He confirmed that they would answer only to the President himself, which is presumably why they are within the Presidency.

This obviously sets up a clash, or at least a huge contestation, about the  power over so many overlapping domains.

Already there is public evidence that the energy minister and ANC chair, Gwede Mantashe, and the public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan, have sometimes opposing views on pressing issues.

The newly introduced National State of Disaster brings another minister to this steamy cauldron: Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will also have power as the person who signs the disaster regulations into law.

And while not technically part of this group, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana will have to play a major role too, simply because so many of the problems are related to finance and money.

When asked directly if the new minister would be able to overrule Mantashe, Gungubele claimed this would not be a problem.

But this may well defy political reality.

Mantashe is renowned for getting his way, even if that means swimming against the tide of public opinion. He has already told the Sunday Times: “To me, my understanding of this intervention from the President is that we must approach this issue as a project management intervention so that we project-manage the management of load shedding.”

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SA’s grumpiest politician

While his claim that this person would be a “project manager” may well be open to presidential interpretation, the fact is that decisions made by Mantashe have a huge impact on rolling blackouts, and thus on whether this new person will be able to succeed thanks to, rather than despite, their relationship with SA’s grumpiest politician.

If Mantashe’s department, intentionally or not, does not make the necessary moves or deals too slowly with applications or projects, then the new minister will have their hands tied downstream, picking up the blame, of course.

Gordhan too is one of the ablest political operators of our democratic era, and was able to survive being a focal point of Jacob Zuma’s attempts to remove him when Zuma was President.

While it is not entirely clear who the new minister will be, it is likely they will be politically junior to Gordhan and Mantashe.

They will also be the public face of rolling blackouts, literally overnight. Mantashe has been quoted as saying that if the management of his energy policies failed, he would just “blame Pravin” for load shedding. This person is likely to be blamed by everyone for every single thing that will go wrong. 

And wrong it will go.

The government is trying to fix a massive series of engineering problems in a short amount of time with little money, at a time when many countries around the world are also going through energy crises of their own.

In the middle of this is huge amounts of money, being managed by people who have been shown to steal disaster funds in the past, a true crime against humanity.

Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity

The most likely candidate

So, who is this person with an apparent superhuman resistance to pain?

The candidate that best fits the profile appears to be Parks Tau. He was sworn in as an MP last week and has masses of experience in local government.

He is also one of the few people who have worked in all three spheres of government: as the mayor of Joburg, an MEC in Gauteng and deputy Cogta minister in the national government.

Of these three spheres, perhaps his experience in Joburg will be most useful. As outgoing Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said last week, if councils paid the R68-billion they owed Eskom, it would have no problem buying diesel to alleviate load shedding.

Tau was not just a mayor of an important Metro, he was also a member of the Mayoral Committee for Finance for a long period and thus must surely understand the problems councils face. However, he also presided over what turned out to be a decade-long billing crisis in that city.

There do not appear to be many other candidates. Of course, Ramaphosa could do something unexpected.

For example, he could ask Mantashe to become that new minister, trusting him in the hot seat and directly linking him to rolling blackouts.

He could also decide that the real problem is the corruption and what Eskom says is the sabotage of its operations at its plants in Mpumalanga. And thus the person who may really understand the regional dynamics is the current (still) Deputy President David Mabuza, who should indeed know a lot about all these crimes. However, this is rather unlikely — Mabuza has already indicated he no longer wants to be in high office, and would know better than to accept the offer of the worst job in the country.

Then there is David Makhura. The former Gauteng premier was also sworn in as an MP last week, and is seen as a competent pair of hands. He was able to run the country’s richest province for a decade and played an important role in rebuilding the ANC in that province before that.

The scale of the problem the new minister will face almost defies comprehension, as does the magnitude of the political problems.

It is worth reiterating how our entire national crisis is caught up in the power crisis. The power emergency and the resulting rolling blackouts are the result of corruption, incompetence, the ANC’s failure to manage local government, cadre deployment, State Capture and almost every other negative political dynamic of the past 20 years.

Turning this around is immense, and will take many years.

But for the ANC, all of this has to be resolved before next year’s election.

It almost certainly cannot be done, which means that the new appointee is probably being set up to fail and will be blamed within the ANC for the failure.

It has often been said that being the Eskom CEO was the worst job in the country. It may now have competition for that title. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Masses of experience in local government: can that be a recommendation when municipalities and local government are in tatters everywhere? Corruption, poorly managed water and sewage and unpaid billions to Eskom – experience in local government is not something to be proud of.

  • Alastair Moffat says:

    This dog’s breakfast could lead to political interference in the implementation of loadshedding.
    Loadshedding has been handled superbly by Eskom in protecting the grid from collapse. It’s a bit like ensuring competence in air traffic control to avoid disastrous midair collisions.
    If the state of disaster is used to try and pacify an angry electorate, by trying to prevent blackouts in public hospitals, sewage plants etc., as already mentioned publicly by Motsoaledi and NDZ, and they try and pull the levers in Eskom’s grid control center, we could be heading for a total collapse of the gris as is being warned by the USA.

  • Peter Smith says:

    The ANC is a training ground in corruption, incompetence, sloth and political infighting. Such a schooling is good preparation for corrupt tenderpreneurship and now 25 years later all arms of government are populated by such people. The competent and the honourable have all been displaced.

    Consequently there is no principled person left in the ANC with the intelligence, energy, competence and determination necessary for solving this problem.

    Thus the problem won’t be solved but a few privileged individuals will be greatly enriched. For them that counts as success.

  • Johan Buys says:

    There is ONE primary cause of loadshedding : Eskom breaks units faster than units come out of planned maintenance. No minister will change that. Let the private sector run a few power stations and see whether that helps?

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    what a shallow pool we have in government!surely if the new Minister is based in the president’s office he/she can override grumpy Gwede and passive Pravin. We all know the problem will not be sorted out any time soon but be worried about NDZ who will ban cigarettes and booze because we are all in the dark!

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    We are entitled to feel hopeless as a country as one is very careful not to say as a nation because whether we are indeed a nation. However, living with hopelessness means that we are unable to deal with the challenges facing our country. We have been seeking to assign blame to Mantashe for an entity that does not fall under his Ministry. This entity is Eskom with its coal fleet that it has been unable to maintain affecting its ability to give the country regular electricity. This entity that has had half of its fleet not giving electricity and has been functioning with almost half of the required number of board members until late last year and this is seen in a very funny way the failure of Mantashe not Pravin Gordhan. The entity has been holding press conferences that have been generally poppycock. The President who is responsible for the Cabinet that ought function as a collective bears no responsibility according to the fables as the CEO of SA Inc. A scapegoat who reports to him must be found and that ought to be Mantashe without any substantive reasons and if there are any the President ought to have fired him. Now we have a project manager elevated to the level of a Minister according to Mantashe with a job description going from one power station to the other to ensure that they get one they require to work.
    The litany of breakdowns and their causes will come to light hopefully during the litigation against state of national disaster and then we may have clarity.

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