Eskom is decimated as its leadership and politics leave SA stranded in the dark

Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Photo: Oupa Mokoena/Independent Newspapers

Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Photo: Oupa Mokoena/Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 29, 2023


One would have hoped that with the coming of the new minister of electricity, South Africa would have turned a page and entered a new era of focused decisive leadership in the energy space.

It seems we were all too tired of the stress imposed on us by load shedding, so anything to solve Eskom's energy crisis was met with a sigh of relief. During the first few months into the appointment of Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, as minister of electricity, things seemed to change. However, it turned out to be a short-lived moment of hope.

When politicians speak, always read between the lines and see through the seasonal mood and the message they are driving. All that was promised relating to this “great” energy action plan to solve the energy crisis has not been delivered.

The secretary-general of the ANC, Fikile Mbalula, and Ramokgopa had said that by December 2023, Eskom should have ended load shedding.

The balance of the power plant units are broken, with no plan to fix them properly and return them to service. How did we, as a country, arrive at this messy juncture?

Right now, the only units in Eskom that are reliable and functional, about half the fleet, produce around 24 000 megawatts. That is the reason we are experiencing load shedding at fluctuating stages of severity.

All other excuses about why Eskom is not ending load shedding are just folk tales meant to keep the public engaged in the discourse to control the energy crisis narrative. Most of the excuses used to justify load shedding are sheer lies.

The slightly higher demand surge that occurred in the past week was not that big a deal that it could have forced Eskom into an immediate disaster state and near grid-collapse levels.

It was disappointing to hear various Eskom alert statements attempting to blame it on the heat wave.

The demand for energy has been declining. Yet a slight change in the weather knocked Eskom into a disaster state.

Why is Eskom battling to meet the basic demand of 28 000MW of peak energy demand and has to resort to implementing Stage 6 load shedding?

If you run the numbers, load shedding should be between Stage 2 and 3 for peak hour. Do the maths and see for yourself, 27 685MW peak demand less 25 295MW availability.

The difference is a mere 2 390MW shortfall required to meet peak demand. Something smells fishy and doesn’t make sense.

Now that the demand has declined drastically, Eskom has reduced its market supply in KWh energy sales. Even with reduced sales, Eskom battles to meet lower forecast demand.

The reasons for Eskom deciding to implement load shedding is due to higher demand and less availability of electricity on the grid. As a last resort, Eskom has to force consumers to reduce demand by implementing load shedding in stages and, in some areas, implement load curtailing or blackouts.

They also don’t have a budget to fix the 16000MW broken down plant.

Ramokgopa has some explaining to do. Yes, the minister is active and gives the impression that he is working hard, together with all the structures in Eskom, to end load shedding. But since taking up office, he has never once met or sat down with the Eskom board

Who guides the minister in key issues affecting Eskom? Where does he get his insights and strategic direction from if he has no access to the board that is in charge?

Yes, from time to time he holds joint press and media briefings with Eskom executives. But I have never seen or heard that the minister held a meeting with the Eskom board.

Even in his briefings to Parliament’s portfolio committee members, you seldom ever see an Eskom board member accompanying the minister to the briefings.

There are many fault lines in the energy crisis, which South Africa is battling. However, the worst fault line is that of leadership, key decision-making and overall strategic legislative direction.

This combined with political interference is driving Eskom to collapse.

Sad to say, those interests do not seek to align with the legislated Electricity Act mandate that gave birth to the creation of Eskom. Eskom was built as a national power company to provide reliable, cheap and cost-effective electricity, to drive industrialisation in South Africa.

Leadership crisis

There are four departments all in charge and in control of Eskom, starting with the Department of Public Enterprise as a shareholder and to the Department of Minerals and Energy as mandated by policy. Furthermore, the new minister of electricity in the Presidency is responsible for driving the energy action plan and last, the Treasury. All the departments are wrestling for the control of Eskom.

There are also various entities such as the Independent Power Producers Office, and other energy committees, ranging from the Presidential Climate Commission to the Presidential Eskom Advisory Board. Then there is Necom and in there, you have the rightful authority on Eskom which is Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy. They are all placed to dictate which direction Eskom ought to follow.

It would require decisive leadership to take the reins of Eskom and implement a win-win turnaround strategy. With all the power structures, it is basically impossible to secure a victory to take Eskom out of its crisis.

For now, there are too many silo functionary interests and disruptive power structures all contesting for control of Eskom. Each power unit wants to hollow out its share of interests in Eskom. leaving the utility close to collapse. South Africa, you are on your own.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of Business Report and Independent Media.