South Africa


Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, you have the power to take us back into the light — here’s how to do it

Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, you have the power to take us back into the light — here’s how to do it
Kgosientsho Ramokgopa on 19 March 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Make no mistake, turning around electricity production is the most ambitious and far-reaching activity any South African leader has undertaken for a long time.


Dear Minister Ramokgopa, 

Congratulations on your appointment to the position of Minister of Electricity in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet. 

Your appointment represents the last hope that the ANC will turn around the generation and transmission of electricity, which has been going backwards at a substantial rate since the utility was converted into a contract management agency for the politically connected.

You will know that the utility is bleeding the economy at a rate of about R1.5-billion a day, so you have already presided over R15-billion in losses since you took office. And that is the conservative, short-term estimate.

To turn this utility around, you will have to accomplish what two senior ANC figures, the minister of mineral resources and energy, Gwede Mantashe, and the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, have failed to do for several years. And you will have to do so with both of them still in the Cabinet and still believing they have ultimate responsibility for Eskom.

It would do you well to dwell for a moment on why these senior ministers have failed despite repeatedly stating that sorting out the Eskom mess is their number one priority.

To do so, you must tune out the news over André de Ruyter’s departure. Your Cabinet colleagues are hawking the story that he is an enemy of the people who is trying to discredit the government. It would do you well to stand above such playground politics and actually think deeply about his analysis of the problems at Eskom.

De Ruyter said corruption at Eskom was “like a cancer that was unsuccessfully treated. So it is just metastasized. And has now grown throughout the body of the organisation; everywhere there is resistance to implementing controls to conducting investigations to implementing disciplinary action.”

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You need to sit down with De Ruyter and hear what he has to say. Listen with an open mind and don’t be distracted by the political noise. And when you have your say on the appointment of De Ruyter’s replacement, don’t fall for the slew of political candidates put forward to protect vested interests. Choose someone who has the right convictions and the courage of those convictions.

There is no getting away from the truth at the core of De Ruyter’s analysis: the belief that massive vested interests among ANC-connected contractors as well as the formal mafia-style organisations which feed off Eskom have made it politically impossible to act to fix the utility.

If you want to understand the nature of the problem at Eskom, you need to take on these vested political interests and overcome them. You have to see to it that President Cyril Ramaphosa provides the political cover needed to drive through this process, which will be painful and may come at some personal cost to you. Ubuntu is a great way to live. But Eskom is not going to be fixed by ubuntu. You will have to look elsewhere for a playbook. You are going to need the ruthlessness of a King Shaka, the commercial acumen of an Ernest Oppenheimer, the determination of a Thuli Madonsela and the courage of a Duane Vermeulen.

When the vested interests come for you, from senior ministers to crooked contractors, you will need fortitude and a bloody-minded determination to do the right thing. These are qualities you did not show when the ANC factions came for your mayorship of Tshwane. But, perhaps you have learned and will not be so easily caught out this time around. 

Make no mistake, turning around electricity production is the most ambitious and far-reaching activity any South African leader has undertaken for a long time. 

You need to focus on three simple things:

  1. Rooting out the criminal syndicates and the rent-seekers by working with law enforcement. You need investigators from the Special Investigating Unit — or others independent of the criminal networks — and prosecutors to work hand-in-hand on South Africa’s biggest mafia case, which will see the arrest and jailing of those who are systemically stealing from Eskom. Without this action, the next two actions will fail, and so will your tenure as minister.
  2. Maintaining, repairing and smoothly running the existing fleet of coal, nuclear and hydropower sources. This involves making sure that the right repairs and maintenance are done to bring stability to the energy base load, something which has been prioritised time and again but has failed because the first step above was not taken.
  3. Opening up energy generation from the private sector on a massive scale with a pivot to renewables. There is already $8.5-billion in concessionary finance to kick-start this, which has been waiting idly for two years while the criminals held back the just transition so they could continue to loot the old system.

It is a massive project management challenge, and one that will make or break you. It will also, if Eskom’s continued collapse is unchecked, break South Africa’s economy as we know it. 

By the end of your tenure, you will either be just another dodgy minister who presided over the collapse of the grid and the country’s slide into a failed state, or the hero who turned it all around. You have an opportunity to turn the tide, to change the political culture and to be the author of a new chapter for this country. DM 

Greg Mills and Ray Hartley are with The Brenthurst Foundation —


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • L G says:

    Well said. Someone should print out 500 copies of this article and wallpaper Ramokgopa’s office with them. He could be a pivotal figure in SA’s history if he gets this right.

  • Chris Powell Powell says:

    Well said. And the one person who should read it but won’t? Why, it’ll be Minister Ramokgopa!

  • franc0 beltrame says:

    very good assessment! We ought to pin our hopes that it will happen in the positive, it could lead you to run the Country if you succeed. Go for it !!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    If you’re a glass half full, even if it’s cracked and leaking type person, as opposed to a glass half empty and cracked and being hit with hammers by the ANC type person, you’d say that Ramokgopa is a political beast at heart, and if he has ambition to reach the pinnacle of the country, this is his golden opportunity to shine and sweep into power in the not too distant future. I won’t hold my breath, though.

  • Abri Vermeulen says:

    Good article – the electricity ‘crisis’ is purely a political creation and there is little political will to address it:
    1. ESKOM is three different companies currently being unbundled – Transmission and Distribution are well managed; the problem is with Generation (the ESKOM (mostly coal) fleet). So why is generation so targeted – because that’s where the big bucks are….
    2. South Africa does NOT need to rely on coal for electricity generation – at COP we got a commitment for developed countries to fund the Just transition to renewable energy (as presented by Environment Minister (and (former) ESKOM CEO))
    3. South Africa does NOT need to solely rely ESKOM’s generation fleet for power – appointment of IPPs has been delayed for at least decade – funds are available as noted by the authors.
    Looking forward to DMs coming expose.

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