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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist


‘I eat, pray, live power’: Ramokgopa’s sleepless quest to end SA’s blackouts

Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa discusses his tireless efforts to stabilise South Africa's energy supply, including tackling embedded crime in Eskom.


Enduring sleepless nights with his phone constantly ringing, Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa doesn’t have the luxury of attending family birthday parties, soccer games or functions because he lives and thinks electricity. Since being appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to Cabinet six months ago to fulfil a role with the most hectic schedule – to reverse the tide of blackouts and stabilise SA’s energy supply – Ramokgopa has put family and social life on the back burner. Describing his task as “unenviable”, Ramokgopa said: “I knew what I was getting myself into. “There are sleepless…

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Enduring sleepless nights with his phone constantly ringing, Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa doesn’t have the luxury of attending family birthday parties, soccer games or functions because he lives and thinks electricity.

Since being appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to Cabinet six months ago to fulfil a role with the most hectic schedule – to reverse the tide of blackouts and stabilise SA’s energy supply – Ramokgopa has put family and social life on the back burner.

Describing his task as “unenviable”, Ramokgopa said: “I knew what I was getting myself into.

“There are sleepless nights because the situation keeps on changing, sometimes unostentatiously, with four units having tripped and we must intensify load shedding.”

An avid reader and sports enthusiast, Ramokgopa supports Mamelodi Sundowns.

“But while you are watching the soccer game, someone is likely to pose a question about electricity,” he quipped. “Such a disruption is not unexpected,” he added.

There is no free day and no long weekend for Ramokgopa.

In an exclusive interview with Saturday Citizen, the energetic, passionate and hard-working minister this week spoke frankly about the challenges of the high-pressure job, his achievements, vision and the toll it is taking on his family.

Eskom has chewed up and spat out chief executives by the armful, the latest being André de Ruyter, but Ramokgopa remains buoyant in a sea of despair.

He said: “I am very optimistic in relation to Kusile – units 1, 2, 3 and 5. We know Medupi unit 5 is coming on stream and we need another 800 megawatts.”

He is confident the new generation capacity (green power) being lined up through the bid windows being coordinated by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe will make a difference,“ as long as we locate projects in areas of great capacity”.

Against the background in the past year, which has seen solar installations accounting for 10% of the national energy output – implying a reduction in demand – Ramokgopa said: “On solar, we get the benefit during the day – after the morning and before the evening peak. The time we need generation capacity is the morning and evening peak.

“This is not helping us a lot during the day, in relation to new generation capacity, especially because a lot of people using solar do not have storage capacity.

“What really supports us during morning and evening peak is the Eskom generation capacity. Generation is what is going to get us out of this situation – with greater storage capacity.

“Currently, you can only store energy for four hours in terms of the current technology. Additional generation capacity and hydro energy from neighbouring countries will give us breathing space.”

With the key question being when load shedding will come to an end, Ramokgopa said stabilising the country’s energy supply, hinged on restoring normality at the coal-fired Kusile power station in Mpumalanga.

Bringing Kusile back to the original design by December 2024 has meant requesting special permission to be exempt from pollution commitments because getting the station back up to speed meant bypassing systems which helped remove sulphur emissions from the exhaust gases.

He said by December, “we should be getting an additional 2 800MW, shaving off three stages of load shedding”. That would be accompanied by a reduction in demand “because you are in a summer period”.

There will even be days “without load shedding”.

Ramokgopa hopes by next winter “we do not have a situation of saying I am sorry, we must do stage 1 and stage 2 because demand has gone up”.

“We must not be complacent because demand is coming down and we are adding megawatts.”

On the embedded criminality within Eskom, Ramokgopa said: “I am supported by various workstreams – one of these being on crime and corruption, which include intelligence services and the SA Police Service.

“Over 1 000 cases are being investigated and over 100 arrests have been made and there have been a considerable number of successful prosecutions.

“Sabotage and cartels continue to undermine our efforts and I am not at a stage where I can say we have been able to make a huge headway in this area.”

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