Can Ramokgopa Ensure Electricity For South Africa?

Can Ramokgopa Ensure Electricity For South Africa?

Can Ramokgopa Ensure Electricity For South Africa?

Earlier this month, Rand Rescue did a brief evaluation of President Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle. While we did a broad overview, we didn’t delve deeper into the topic on everyone’s minds – the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity – Dr Kgosienthso ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa.

Can the new minister live to his own life motto, “Live truthfully and you shall prevail against all adversity.”?

Who is Kgosientsho Ramokgopa?

The man put in charge of sorting out SA’s electricity crisis certainly seems qualified for the job, not that qualifications are any indication of future performance, but we digress.

Born on 25 January 1975, Ramokgopa is also one of the younger ministers in the parliament at 48. As his name suggests, Ramokgopa’s family originally hails from Ga-Ramokgopa – now situated in Limpopo province. He later moved to Atteridgeville in Pretoria where he matriculated. His football (soccer) prowess earned him the nickname ‘Sputla’, which has stuck to this day.

Following high school, Ramokgopa completed a BSc in Civil Engineering, followed by Master’s degrees in Public Administration and Business Leadership and later a PhD in Public Affairs. He further holds a certificate in Executive Development.

Entering politics – a young hopeful

Ramokgopa entered the political sphere at a fairly young age. He was elected ANC local councillor in Tshwane Ward 51 where he served from the age of 25 – 2000 until 2005. During this time he also worked as a transport engineer and also became CEO of the Metropolitan Trading company in 2004. He held this position until 2006.

He resigned from his position as councillor and worked in both the public and private sector from 2005, including:

 – Deputy chairperson of the Limpopo Board of Trade and Investment
 – CRO of the Johannesburg Market
 – Chairperson of the ANC’s largest regional branch in Tshwane
 – Headed the South African Student Congress
 – Headed the ANCYL University of Durban Westville and Atteridgeville factions

He’s earned many accolades and support over the years. He was named Boss of the Year in 2008 for his position at the Jo’burg Market, and his ANC candidacy was backed by the ANCYL. He was also awarded the 2009 CEO of the Year award by the Institute of People Management and received the 2010 Black Business Quarterly Young Business Achiever of the Year award. 

He has also played a pivotal role in internal party reshuffling within the ANC. One such instance is his collaboration with Nat Kekana in 2010 to garner support for Paul Mashatile’s re-election as ANC Provincial Chairperson. Mashatile went head-to-head with Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and claimed victory. This support for Mashatile was seen by many as a strategic move since it was rumoured that it placed Ramokgopa in pole position for the post of Tshwane Mayor. There was, however, another ace up his sleeve – his aunt, Gwen Ramokgopa, had served in the role before taking up position as Deputy Minister of Health under President Zuma.

While many within the ANC had thought him too young for the role, the opposition didn’t seem significant as he was elected to the role on 2 November 2010, beating the DA’s Gerhardus Pretorius with a vote of 92 to 49.

There were indications that the ANC would lose their majority in Tshwane in 2011, and yet Ramokgopa made it to round two, retaining his position. On his re-election he significantly reshuffled his Mayoral Committee.

Wavering support for Ramokgopa

While his re-election pointed towards public confidence in his leadership, this view would not last, as he was embroiled in a prepaid electricity meter roll-out under the Security of Revenue Project launched in October 2013, which led to widespread outrage. Opposition parties took to the courts in an effort to remove PEU Capital Partners who was appointed to oversee the project, since there was evidence of billions of rands in irregular expenditure.

Ramokgopa would retain his support in the ANC, however, as indicated by his re-election as ANC Regional Chairperson in Tshwane in 2011 and 2014. The same cannot be said for the ANCYL who backed him previously – they teamed up with the SAPC and certain trade unions in an effort to replace him with CEO of PRASA, Lucky Montana. This opposition steamrolled into a mass effort by the aforementioned groups as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions and numerous business forums who threatened a boycott of the 2014 provincial elective conference and also undertook mass demonstrations in an effort to have his municipality placed under administration.

While he initially seemed like a strong contender for a 3rd term in the regional post, he was not nominated for re-election. The ANC infighting had become rather fierce in the years leading up to the 2016 regional elections, and those who backed ANC Deputy Regional Chairperson Mapiti Matsena were opposed to Ramakgopa’s leadership and questioned his handling of the smart meter contract. One particular move which saw him fall out of favour within the party was his support for President Jacob Zuma and disagreement with others within the ANC over ANC succession as well as their stern response to the Nkandla scandal. This infighting went largely unseen to those outside the ANC, and people like Mashatile and others in higher office denied any division within their ranks. The division could not be obscured indefinitely, however, as things came to a head in 2016 when violent protests in Tshwane erupted following the announcement that Thoko Didiza would succeed Ramokgopa.

Ramokgopa’s supporters were heard chanting, “no Sputla, no votes”, during these protests. Whether voluntarily or at the behest of those higher up the ladder, Ramokgopa voiced his support for Didiza and called for calm.

Losing to the opposition

Whatever the series of events that led up to it – the ANC losing its majority in Tshwane in the 2016 election was a pivotal moment in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. For the first time since its democracy, the capital city was under the rule of the opposition under DA mayoral candidate Solly Msimanga. This seemed the last straw for Ramokgopa, who announced that he would step away from the council – despite previously indicating that he would retain a position as ordinary councillor.

Certain factions within the ANC still held high hopes for Ramokgopa and canvassed for his nomination as ANC Provincial Chairperson in Gauteng against David Makhura. Their efforts worked insofar as he was nominated for the role but declined. Ramokgopa then stepped into a less pivotal role in the ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee.

Makhura’s landslide win would hold future benefits for Ramokgopa. Shortly after he was elected to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature in 2019, Makhura – Gauteng Premier at the time – appointed Ramokgopa as Member of the Executive Council for Economic Development, Agriculture and Environment. His stint was cut short amid pressure within the ANC to yield to gender transformation. Ramokgopa decided to step aside before such decision could be made for him, but ANC Provincial Secretary for Gauteng Jacob Khawe confirmed the rumours later.

Moving up and on

Following Ramokgopa’s resignation, it was rumoured that the ANC had earmarked him for numerous roles in public office. In particular – it was indicated that they favoured him for a role at Eskom, Transnet or the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.

While it seemed that President Ramaphosa had put the rumours to rest when he appointed Ramokgopa as head of the newly established Investment and Infrastructure office in the Presidency in November 2019. He was elected to the party’s NEC for the first time in December 2022 – ranked no 49 out of the 80 candidates.

Given earlier support by those within the ANC, it is not farfetched to imagine that his interim role at the Investment and Infrastructure Office was fast-tracking him towards a role within the energy sector. If earlier rumours – touted by numerous South African news networks – indicated that this was the direction the ANC wanted to take him, then it is no surprise that he was appointed the new Minister in the Presidency for Electricity earlier this month.

Alliances, ethnicity and seesawing support

Although his relation to Gwen Ramokgopa shouldn’t be seen as nepotism per se – we’ve seen time and again that certain families and factions do tend to make it further up the political and business rungs as a loosely-knitted ensemble. The fact that tribalism is still alive and well in our country cannot be ignored – Jacob Zuma’s famed slogan ‘100% Zulu’ following rape allegations was a stark reminder that ethnicity is a pivotal player in politics.

It is said that the ANC’s loss to the DA and EFF coalition in 2016 was mostly due to the Tswana-speaking people in Gauteng claiming that Thoko Didiza belonged to KwaZulu-Natal, and that she didn’t have their best interests at heart.

Many have also claimed that much of the ANC opposition to Ramaphosa has to do with his own ethnicity – hailing from Venda, he represents around 3% of South Africans based on language demarcation. The only other languages with less native speakers in South Africa are isiNdebele and the Khoi, Nama and San languages. While language alone is not the sole criteria for identifying ethnicity, other statistics on ethnic breakdown are a bit sketchy, as there are many mixed households.

What does this mean exactly? Well, there are no clear answers. The seesawing support for Ramokgopa over the years is a clear indication that there are those who want him in a leadership role, while others don’t hold the same sentiments. On the one hand we have a clear indication that Ramokgopa supports team Zuma – one of the very groups involved in the downfall of SOEs like Eskom. On the other hand, Ramokgopa has clearly burned bridges with the ANCYL, SACP and the Congress of South African Trade Unions – some other big players in the Eskom mess.

A question of conduct and tenacity

Ramokgopa seems to check all the boxes when it comes to someone who has to deal with an electricity crisis – he understands engineering, business administration and public policy.

One interesting point to mull over is his willingness to step aside. He stepped away from the Tshwane council following the ANC’s loss in 2016, declined his candidacy for the role of ANC Provincial Chairperson in Gauteng, and voluntarily resigned when Makhura’s executive council needed an overhaul.  This can be seen as an indication of honourable conduct – unlike cronies like Zuma who cling to positions far longer than necessary, he seems to know when to concede. On the other hand, it can also be seen as a rather unassertive trait – something which will definitely not get the job done when it comes to the mammoth task of fixing the electricity sector.

If he is indeed the man for the job, it makes sense that he wasn’t placed at the steer of Eskom itself. As numerous political analysts have pointed out – that is a role no man with a proper head on his shoulders would touch.

The DA has already made a big fuss about the cost to taxpayers for the new ministry – an estimated R38 million per year. A later figure added an estimated R100 million to this figure – mostly due to the appointment of new officials. This is certainly a hefty sum, but those who support the institution reckon that it’s a ‘small price to pay’ if it can somehow stop the haemorrhaging of funds due to loadshedding.

The proof will be in the pudding

It’s clear that no one quite knows what to make of Ramokgopa as yet. He inspired tentative trust this week when he stated that it’s clear that Medupi is not up to standard and that it’s clear there was an intention to cut corners. The minister is currently undertaking a series of site visits to various plants to analyse their different challenges. As one of our youngest and most pivotal plants, it’s alarming that he’s spotted clear design flaws at the Medupi plant – but not surprising.

He’s also pointed out the obvious issue of SA’s dependence on gas. Theft of R500 000 worth of diesel at the Ankerlig gas turbine power plant has been ascribed to inefficiencies with the delivery of diesel to the plant. The minister is of the mind that it’s illogical to have 100 diesel-carrying trucks offload diesel at the plant every day. The theft was linked to plant operator Angelo Cysman who worked at the plant.

Ramokgopa also lamented the delayed maintenance to the Koeberg power station. Unit one of the plant – which provides 920 megawatts to the grid – is out of operation and hopes that it would be back online by 23 July this year have been dashed. Reading between the lines, the minister has indicated that the loss of this unit is likely to see more loadshedding.

Ramokgopa’s R100m Resource Mobilisation Fund – aimed at recruitment – has raised flags, but his indication that the private sector would assist in the recruitment process is seen by many as a step away from SOE corruption. This is up for debate, of course, as the thing that lies at the heart of corruption is the irregular awarding of tenders to services providers outside the government. The private sector has seen as much corruption over the years, if not more – these matters are generally not as widely reported on though.

Ramokgopa does have the backing of the Presidential Climate Commission, but this commission has inspired much trust in the minds of the citizenry thus far so their opinion is unlikely to carry much weight.. 

The IMF doesn’t seem as hopeful – the fund cut SA’s growth outlook for 2023 from 1,2% to 0,1%…but it should be noted that this may be a result of other factors at play which we’ll discuss in the next article.

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