Eskom cannot be saved by China

China’s donation of equipment, skills, and financial resources will help improve Eskom’s performance. However, the end of load-shedding depends on what the utility and the South African government do – not what foreign companies will do. 

University of Johannesburg professor Hartmut Winkler told eNCA that there is nothing new about China assisting South Africa in tackling its energy crisis, as the country has been helping for years. 

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa signed memorandums of cooperation with eight Chinese companies last week. 

Winkler’s comments come after the Electricity Minister signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with eight Chinese companies “focused on enhancing South Africa’s energy security through infrastructure and technology development, human capital development, and research, amongst other objectives”.

Through an Exchange of Letters and a resultant Technical Assistance Programme, the Chinese Government will also donate emergency equipment to South Africa.

Under the programme, the first shipment of equipment will include 552 petrol generators, which will be deployed to critical facilities, including hospitals and clinics.

Over the long term, Ramokgopa hopes the agreements will help end load-shedding by transferring skills and technology from the Chinese firms to Eskom, thereby improving the utility’s performance.

Over the long term, Ramokgopa hopes the agreement will help bring load-shedding to an end by transferring skills and technology from the Chinese firms to Eskom, thereby improving the utility’s performance.

Winkler said that while the agreement will help end load-shedding, it likely won’t be as swift as the minister promised. 

“We are in this for the long term. The best we can hope for is by the end of next year, the situation will be better. I am sure we will still have some load-shedding for the next five years,” Winkler said. 

South Africa already has a strong relationship with China, as the countries have collaborated on electricity generation and transmission for a few years. 

“This is nothing dramatically new. It has been there a long time,” Winkler said.

He anticipates that these agreements may focus on helping Eskom and the government upgrade the country’s grid and accelerate the addition of new generation capacity. 

However, Winkler cautioned against relying on foreign countries and companies to solve load-shedding. 

“Ultimately, I do not think it is what foreign countries and companies are going to do in this country that matters – it is more what South Africa will do itself.”

Furthermore, Winkler said there is no such thing as a free lunch in international politics, even if it is a donation. At some point, South Africa will have to give China something in return. 

“There is always an expectation that it will help the donor at some point.”

Ramokgopa stated in a later interview that there are “no strings attached” to the agreement, while the Ministry of Electricity said, “The substance and details of the agreement were openly presented during an open signing ceremony attended by media.”


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