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Beijing’s offer of help in power crisis was why Eskom chief tagged along to China – Gordhan

Beijing’s offer of help in power crisis was why Eskom chief tagged along to China – Gordhan
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan during a meeting to discuss Eskom at Parliament on 17 May 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Eskom acting CEO Calib Cassim, and two others, went along to China to assess an offer of assistance, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told MPs on Wednesday regarding the trip his department had touted as breaking the deadlock over the Transnet locomotives.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan travelled to China to meet “counterparts in the Chinese government as part of efforts to fast-track the delivery of locomotives and spare parts by the Chinese state-owned CRRC e-Loco to Transnet”, the Public Enterprises Department said on 1 May. 

That Eskom’s acting CEO, Calib Cassim, accompanied Gordhan emerged last week when the state power utility’s board chairperson, Mpho Makwana, said the executive was in China but gave no further details.

At Wednesday’s meeting of Parliament’s public spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), DA MP Alf Lees followed up, asking why the Eskom CEO was taken out of the country at a time of electricity crisis.

“There was an offer of assistance in the current environment we find ourselves in from various entities in China. I am not qualified to assess (this). The acting GCEO (Eskom Group CEO) and two others were in a position to interact and assess,” said Gordhan, adding that similar offers had come from other countries.

The two other Eskom officials remained unnamed.

Like the Transnet locomotive matter – the delivery of spare parts has been held up over the tax authority’s push for the Chinese provider to regularise its status in South Africa – the Eskom assistance offer was a work in progress.

An update would be provided when appropriate, said Gordhan, but this “work in progress” was intended to ensure the current energy crisis is resolved as quickly as possible. “I am optimistic that there will be a good outcome.”

Eskom’s acting CEO, Calib Cassim. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg)

Earlier in the Scopa interaction over ex-Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims of political involvement in sabotage and corruption at the troubled utility, Gordhan raised his interactions with China’s grid company out of left field.

Describing it as the biggest in the world, controlling 60% of the Portuguese grid, and similar proportions in the Philippines, Gordhan said “it’s an area where a new business model (can evolve)”.

South Africa is experiencing unprecedented rolling blackouts that leave households and businesses without electricity for up to 12 hours a day. 

Amid various efforts to add electricity output to the grid, including renewables and embedded projects, it emerged that the transmissions lack capacity. Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe raised this also in his Budget vote speech on Tuesday.

Gordhan’s visit to China comes at a time when South Africa’s foreign policy is under increased scrutiny for actions that are widely seen not as non-aligned, as South Africa insists, but leaning towards Russia whose foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was hosted by Pretoria in late January ahead of the military manoeuvres that coincided with the 24 February anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom Intelligence Files

The controversy over the sanctioned Russian vessel, Lady R, possibly uploading materiel for Russia, as claimed by US ambassador Reuben Brigety, has exacerbated this.

Traditionally the governing ANC has had a friendly relationship with the Communist Party of China, regularly embarking on party-to-party visits there – as recently as mid-March when President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed a dialogue hosted by the Communist Party of China, highlighting the host’s “principled positions” on global issues and more.

“We are keen that these principles are strengthened and directed at developmental initiatives that are critical for our collective success as nations of the south,” said Ramaphosa then.

Economic and trade relations between South Africa and China have increasingly grown closer. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Grant S says:

    How cute. Look at them “swanning” around the world together.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    “I am not qualified to assess (this). The acting GCEO (Eskom Group CEO) and two others were in a position to interact and assess,” – Gordhan

    God help South Africa…………………………….

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Mr “holier than though”lost all respect for him

  • jcdville stormers says:

    ANC = saviours of South Africa,bulldust,bunch of narcisstic thieves

  • Tim Price says:

    I’m sure they could have just written an email with a few proposals or offers of solar panels or batteries rather than requiring a visit in person, or was that to discuss the kickbacks?. More proof that the ANC lives in a parallel universe, in which reality is the one they make up whenever they open their mouths.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The acting CEO was the CFO during the entire period that almost R500,000,000,000 was wasted and or stolen at Eskom. Not holding my breath for what he could do in China.

    As to China, they might help with packaged coal plants but in terms of urgent power, but they themselves rely on GE for gas power turbines. About 40GW of those have been added by GE in China in the last decade.

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