ANALYSIS: The mirage of power — or how the electricity minister got his functions 

ANALYSIS: The mirage of power — or how the electricity minister got his functions 

ANALYSIS: The mirage of power — or how the electricity minister got his functions 

Almost three months after being appointed electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa finally has his officially delegated powers, in addition to being responsible for the National Energy Action Plan that aims to reduce the intensity and frequency of the rolling blackouts that leave households and businesses with no electricity for almost half a day — every day.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the Presidency said:

“After due consideration, President (Cyril) Ramaphosa has transferred to the Minister of Electricity all powers and functions contained in Section 34(1) of the Electricity Regulation Act, which were previously entrusted to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy…

“This proclamation will provide the Minister of Electricity with the powers necessary to direct the procurement of new generation capacity and ensure security of supply.”

Section 34(1) of that Act allows Ramokgopa to “determine that new generation capacity is needed to ensure the continued uninterrupted supply of electricity”, and from which “types of energy sources”  electricity must be generated at what percentage.

It sets out the need for “a tendering procedure which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”, provides for private sector participation, and allows the determination to whom this electricity is sold, and in what manner.

But the devil is in the detail.

In this case, that’s Section 34(2) of the Electricity Regulation Act which holds all the contractual authorities for procuring new energy. But the Government Gazette notice expressly excludes Section 34(2)(a) – (e) from the transfer of functions from Minister Gwede Mantashe to Ramokgopa. 

Crucially, that S34(2)(a)- (e) includes the “management and development activities, including entering into contracts as may be necessary to organise tenders” and permits and licenses — and responsibility under the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) to “bind the State to any future financial commitment that is necessary for development, construction, commissioning or effective operation of a public or privately owned electricity generation business”.

And so the power to carry additional electrons from project deal to grid, so to speak, continues with Mantashe who retains contractual and tender and procurement authorities. The Independent Power Producers Office also remains with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

But Ramokgopa can say so and so many megawatts of this type of power are needed with the cooperation of the regulator, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa). 

Friday’s announcement on the electricity ministerial powers seems to be a fudge amid a highly politically determined and motivated energy crisis. The rolling blackouts that leave households and businesses without electricity for up to half a day — daily — have been identified as a top priority to deal with for the governing ANC amid its waving polling fortunes ahead of the 2024 elections.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa transfers responsibility for new power generation to Ramokgopa, pulling plug on Mantashe  

Or as ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula recently told the BBC’s HARDtalk, “It’s load shedding we will crush and defeat… Everything must be done to do away with load shedding.” 

Ramaphosa’s announcement of an electricity ministry in the February State of the Nation Address, alongside the now abandoned electricity state of disaster, was greeted with scepticism. Many pointed out this was a stop-gap measure in the ANC factional jockeying after the governing party’s December 2022 national conference resolved that Eskom must move from Public Enterprises to Mineral Resources and Energy.

Since Ramokgopa was appointed on 7 March, he’s visited power stations and engaged various interested parties. His proposals to slow down the decommissioning of power plants, effectively overturned accepted policy and raised questions over South Africa’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. It also clouded the just energy transition, or protecting vulnerable workers and communities in the shift to clean energy, at a time when South Africa has yet to finalise the details that would open access to the $8.5-billion pledged by the US, UK, Germany, France and the European Union.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to push for extending life of ageing coal-fired power station

That Ramokgopa was little more than “a programme in the Presidency” emerged in discussions in Parliament on whether the electricity ministry should get its own oversight committee. Not so, the ANC MPs maintained. Or as ANC MP Mina Lesoma in early May put it in a debate on establishing such a committee as the DA proposed: 

“It [the electricity ministry] has no department… it has no staff… it has no budget and it relies on the administration budget of the Presidency. It does not have a strategic five-year plan, but rather it is an immediate programme over the next… less than two years… because the end of the term is next year. It does not have an annual performance plan, but it is a programme in the Presidency.”

Friday’s gazetted powers for the electricity minister may have further muddied governance. DM