Ed's Note
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s a national election year for South Africa, which has good and bad implications for the country’s energy market.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/03/13 – subscribe today

Political parties competing for voters’ attention will use the Eskom crisis as a tool without making any difference to the utility’s woes. While the governing party, the ANC, will draw attention to how they are overcoming the problem, opposition parties will, of course, propose how they can do it better.

Either way, voters are angry and concerned. In politics this is useful but how will it play out?

A meme doing the rounds shows the iconic movie Back to the Future’s Doc telling Marty: “I’ve just returned from 2045 Marty…I kid you not, they’re still building Mepudi”. 

It’s not a new joke but could have been put back into play to goad voters into thinking about the future. 

The meme draws attention to how the ANC has responded to delays in new power build programme, specifically coal-fired plants Medupi and Kusile and the glitch in the renewable energy procurement programme, which had disastrous consequences for renewable companies.

Basically, over the years, ministers have pushed steadfastly ahead with the coal build, ignoring implications from increasing costs to get these plants fully operational…with no alternatives and no clear direction as the IRP awaited in the wings to be updated.

The blame is not only at the ministers’ feet, as the power utility’s crisis has a long history, complicated by decisions made decades ago.

In his opinion editorial What caused the current Eskom crisis?, David Nicholls, who retired from Eskom at the end of 2018, explains that Eskom has been in crisis mode since 2008. “With not enough money and insufficient power plants, every rule was bent to “Keep the Lights On”. In this environment, many used the new flexibility to fix problems very quickly, but some used it for nefarious purposes,” says Nicholls.

Is the current situation a result only of corruption, or did the crisis itself create fertile grounds for corruption?

With the ongoing State Capture inquiry, many of these “nefarious purposes” are coming to light.

The most recent being the utility’s former acting CEO, Matshela Koko, being accused of promising an international engineering firm, ABB, R6.5 billion in future contracts if the company subcontracted work on Kusile power station to Impulse International, a company partially owned by his stepdaughter, Koketso Choma.

Will charges be brought against Koko and will this be before or after the 8 May election date? Have your say here.

Read the previous note from the editor here.