South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blindsided the ruling African National Congress by reneging on a party resolution to place the state power utility under the control of the energy ministry and faces criticism for appointing an electricity czar within his office.
Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster Thursday over an energy crisis that is hobbling the nation’s economy.
The measure will enable the government to bypass regulatory hurdles as it seeks to repair broken power plants and procure emergency electricity to end outages that have extended to as long as 12 hours a day since the start of the year.
The president’s plan to create the position of electricity minister in the presidency and to leave Eskom under the control of the Public Enterprises Department upends an ANC decision to move control of the monopoly power supplier to the energy ministry.
The decisions were taken without consulting party structures, according to two members of the ANC’s National Executive Committee who asked not to be identified as they’re not authorized to comment.
“What was announced here today, we heard it for the first time,” said Zingiswa Losi, president of the country’s most powerful labour federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions — which is in an alliance with the ANC.
“We had spoken about phasing out the department of public enterprises and moving those entities to relevant ministries.”
The ANC is desperate to end rolling blackouts as soon as possible as it sets its sights on retaining its majority in next year’s elections.
The appointment of an electricity czar may enable Ramaphosa to sidestep a battle between Mineral Resources Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan for control of energy supply.
Differences between the two ministers have frustrated efforts to implement reforms needed to address the outages, and the main opposition Democratic Alliance has called for both to be axed.
The party insiders said they were puzzled by Ramaphosa making the announcement that Eskom would remain under Gordhan’s department so soon after the party took a decision last month to move it to the energy department.
The ANC has a poor record in pushing through its resolutions, and the latest decisions risks further damaging Ramaphosa’s standing with some in the party, one of the people said.
The appointment of a minister in the presidency to oversee the electricity portfolio is the latest move by Ramaphosa to centralize decision-making in his office.
Since the start of his administration, the president has established a so-called kitchen cabinet of close advisers and allies housed in the presidency to do some of the work designated to his executive.
Appointments to his office include former mining executive Sipho Nkosi as head of a team tasked with removing restrictions that stifle business, former central bank deputy Governor Daniel Mminele as head of a climate-finance task team, and Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as head of the infrastructure and investment office.
The president’s detractors have accused him of setting up a parallel structure to avoid firing under-performing ministers in his cabinet.
Ramokgopa, an engineer, has been touted by insiders as a possible successor to Mantashe or potentially the new electricity minister, the people said.
Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said the president would provide more details on the role of the electricity minister during a debate in his speech next week.