Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photo / s: Leila Dougan / EPA-EFE / CORNELL TUKIRI)
The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy may well ignore any apparent embarrassment caused by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision on power generation and continue to exert his strong influence on our policy for some time to come.
Over the past 15 years, Gwede Mantashe has been one of SA’s most influential figures. However, last week he appeared to suffer from the embarrassment of having his arm “twisted” in public to raise private companies’ cap for on-board generation to 100 MW, 10 times his preferred figure.
But Mantashe has shown over the years that he is a shrewd, cunning and strategic politician. The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy (and the Chairman of the ANC) may well be able to ignore any apparent embarrassment caused by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision and continue to exert his strong influence on our politics for some time yet.
There are also many factors that can mean that it is too early to say that there will now be a radical change in the energy sector.
Prior to last week’s announcement, Mantashe had expressed opposition to increasing the limit for “integrated generation” to more than 10 MW. (Integrated generation is when a company, for example a mine, has to apply for a license from the regulator, Nersa, to generate electricity for its own use, and to sell some of the electricity it does not use. not, via the network.)
Mantashe had said to Sunday opening hours that they [business] want an unlimited amount to be traded with energy, and this will cause chaos. We will not be able to quantify the impact precisely. You can’t have it; this does not happen in any society.
He said a public inquiry had consulted 10,000 people, most of whom agreed with his point of view. It was later turned out to be wrong.
Meanwhile, the organized companies and Cosatu had requested that the limit be raised to 50 MW, while Eskom agreed with their proposals.
Now Mantashe has been canceled by Ramaphosa and the limit will be double what Cosatu and the companies requested.
News24 reported as Mantashe said during last week’s announcement, “Let me say this, risking being sacked, when the president twisted my arm to go in that direction, I finally agreed…”.
This quote suggests that there was a lot of pressure and attraction during the debate, that Mantashe needed a lot of conviction to allow this to happen.
This leads to the questions, why has he lost here, and will he now attempt a passive-aggressive approach to delay the effective implementation of this measure?
Mantashe a often been accused to oppose renewable energies and to defend the coal lobby.
And he might soon find himself embroiled in the legal battle over the Karpowership contract.
A losing bidder in the project to supply energy via liquefied natural gas vessels sued the department, alleging bribery of tenders. Although there is no proven direct connection to Mantashe, it is claimed that his wife is involved. They both deny the allegations.
At the same time, the Ministry of the Environment took a break the environmental impact assessment process that would allow ships to anchor in our ports and generate electricity there, while there are also doubts as to the legality of electricity production in our ports in the first place.
And it seems Mantashe hasn’t adequately explained why an “emergency” contract should last 20 years.
What does this mean for Mantashe and what happens next?
Electricity regulation is a complex field, with many technical requirements. There are many ways to delay or obscure this process, and therefore many possibilities for Mantashe, or those around him, to delay the implementation of this movement.
However, such an attempt by Mantashe can put him on the wrong side of the law. People who apply for a license have the right to a fair process; they will demand a fair result for their claims and go to court if they believe they have been mistreated.
There may be other significant obstacles to global change in the electricity industry in South Africa.
Shifting an entire country from reliance on coal to reliance on renewable energy is not an easy process, even in an economy much stronger than South Africa’s today.
It’s not just that there are difficult technical issues, but that the energy industry has massive vested interests. Putting Greenpeace in charge of energy policy would not immediately translate into a solar panel on every roof. The coal industry is huge and has significant political influence.
The fact that Mantashe lost this battle does not necessarily weaken his position with this constituency. And there are very few others in government who are able to work as closely as they can with this industry.
Mantashe has shown that he should never be struck off, and there can be no doubt about the close political relationship between him and Ramaphosa up to this point.
He played a key role in creating the mechanism that won Ramaphosa the leadership of the ANC at the party’s Nasrec conference, and has shown his full support ever since.
As chairman of the ANC, he also chaired the meetings of the National Executive Committee (NEC) which first decided that those accused of criminality should step down, and then the process which eventually saw Secretary General suspended Ace Magashule is denied access to an NEC meeting.
Then there is the complicated politics of the ANC conference scheduled for next year to consider. At the moment, there is no obvious challenger for Ramaphosa, and his list doesn’t seem certain either.
The constituency Vice President David Mabuza brought to Nasrec may have disappeared, as the ANC’s Mpumalanga province is no longer easily controlled (recent branch and regional meetings ended in chaos). Ramaphosa may be looking for someone with political experience, ability, and strategic thinking to fill this role.
Mantashe is a possibility for this position. Or he could remain at the head of the party and continue to play a strategic role in it.
It is dangerous to make hard and fast predictions in our politics. Mantashe has proven to have immense stamina over the years – even with the strange personal scandal in his recent past.
His decline in public on the integrated generation may turn out to be just another slowdown in his career. DM
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This notice was published: 2021-06-14 21:47:23