South Africa


SA’s energy and climate brain drain: Will the last person to leave please switch off the lights

SA’s energy and climate brain drain: Will the last person to leave please switch off the lights
From left: Daniel Mminele has served as the head of the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali) | Former head of Eskom's energy transition department Mandy Rambharos. (Photo: Supplied) | Outgoing Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer. (Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Freddy Mavunda) | Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. (Photo: Gallo Images /Rapport / Deon Raath)

As South Africa faces down the most severe period of rolling blackouts and failures with energy provision, many senior leaders who have oversight of key aspects of the country’s attempts to address its interconnected energy and climate crises are choosing to leave their posts.

The earlier-than-expected departure of former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter from Megawatt Park is just one of a succession of notable resignations and planned resignations taking place at a time when South Africa is in the grip of the most severe phase of its longstanding energy crisis. 

Here are some of the leaders in the energy sector who have left or are planning to leave their posts:

André de Ruyter

The former group chief executive officer of Eskom left the job a month earlier than planned after reaching an agreement with the board. His early exit follows a candid interview with Annika Larson on eNCA about political interference and corruption at the embattled power utility.

De Ruyter resigned after Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe claimed that Eskom was “agitating for the overthrow of the state” by failing to address unprecedented levels of rolling blackouts. 

He is the 10th CEO to leave Eskom in 10 years. Calib Cassim, who has been Eskom’s chief financial officer for more than five years, has been appointed interim CEO of Eskom with immediate effect.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “De Ruyter is out, Cassim is in, but will this switch the lights on?

Jan Oberholzer

The Eskom chief operating officer (COO) is set to retire in April 2023. 

Eskom director Mteto Nyati has, according to News24, said that the utility’s board planned to scrap the position of COO after Oberholzer’s retirement as Eskom will be unbundled into three divisions: generation, transmission and distribution. 

Oberholzer will join a long list of experienced practitioners who have left the beleaguered power utility in recent months. 

Phillip Dukashe resigned as the executive in charge of generation in May 2022. Rhulani Mathebula then stepped in as acting head of generation for the second time. After six months in the position, he resigned and has been replaced by Thomas Conradie.

Riedewaan Bakardien, Eskom’s acting chief nuclear officer, left the power utility at the end of July last year to take up a position at a Canadian nuclear power company. Keith Featherstone is currently the acting chief nuclear officer. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Mandy Rambharos

Rambharos is another former Eskom employee who has sought greener pastures away from the travails of Megawatt Park. She worked at Eskom for 24 years before she resigned in October 2022.

In her time at the power utility, she introduced the Just Energy Transition office as a means to make Eskom greener. She was Our Burning Planet’s Guardian of the Year runner-up in 2022.

Rambharos has moved to the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC. The non-profit organisation focuses on “driving game-changing solutions to our biggest environmental issues like climate change, air pollution and more”, according to its website.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Mandy Rambharos gives Eskom’s coal-driven Komati new life as a renewable power plant station

Daniel Mminele

Daniel Mminele has served as the head of the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team. Now, as South Africa finalises the details of the $8.5-billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) implementation plan, the man in charge of that process is headed for the exit.

The partnership is seen as a model for how countries can collaborate to hasten the transition away from a high-carbon economy to a low-carbon economy.

Key to the partnership has been an investment plan that Mminele was closely involved in crafting. With his departure, questions remain about the status of the implementation plan, which is due for publication this year. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Daniel Mminele to step up as Nedbank chair from June 2023

Zaheer Fakir

Fakir, South Africa’s chief for climate talks, has resigned to take up a new role as senior adviser to United Arab Emirates’ COP28 team, Daily Maverick reported recently.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: “South Africa’s chief climate finance negotiator quits, takes on UAE COP 28 role

“I facilitated the development of the Climate Investment Fund Accelerated Coal Transition Investment Plan with Mandy Rambharos which was approved in October 2022 for $500-million,” Fakir told Daily Maverick.

He added that he was also involved “in the design of many of these funds like Green Climate Fund and Climate Investment Funds”.

“I will still retain the chairing of the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] standing committee on finance and co-chair [the] ad hoc work programme on the new collective finance goal for climate change.” OBP/DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Tony B says:

    No need for the last person to leave to “switch off the lights” – the lights are already OFF.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Without the debilitating, prescriptive and dangerous employment regulations in place in South Africa, combined with the damaging effects of ANC policies, there would be no real problem as normal replacements would have been un place to takeover!
    Thank you to our Government for ensuring such a position is simply a pipe dream. I admire your teflon unaccountability!

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