Gordhan, Mantashe take on Ramokgopa during cabinet meeting

The 'big bulls' told the electricity minister that his plan to extend Eskom's coal fired plants should be taken to the National Energy Crisis Committee

Gordhan, Mantashe take on Ramokgopa during cabinet meeting

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s is said to have learnt the hard way that he was playing with the “big bulls” during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday as Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan sent him packing with his tail between his legs. 

Two insiders close to the talks have told the Mail & Guardian that Ramokgopa had no allies at the cabinet meeting; both ministers agreed that he should rather focus on his own portfolio, and that he should take his proposal to extend the life of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations to the National Energy Crisis Committee (Necom). 

Ramokgopa was seeking a green light for funding of his proposal. 

“The minister did present to cabinet as per his own announcement that he would bring options to cabinet. The big bulls raised sharply that this proposal should not be presented to cabinet but rather taken to Necom. It was a little bit of a shaking of the young bull by the big bulls,” one insider said. 

Both insiders said the move was also meant to thwart any ambition by Ramokgopa to have President Cyril Ramaphosa remove some powers from Gordhan and Mantashe. 

“If the sentiment from the cabinet meeting is anything to go by, I think he will remain what Mantashe once said he was, speaking about him as a project manager of some sort. When both of them (Gordhan and Mantashe) speak with one voice, it’s a problem,” the second insider said. 

On Monday in Polokwane, Ramokgopa appeared before the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) to present his plan to alleviate the pressure on Eskom’s systems and increased power cuts. 

Ramokgopa called for the support of the NWC to delay the decommissioning of several power stations by 2025. 

Eskom planned to decommission and repurpose coal-fired power plants at Camden, Hendrina, and Grootvlei at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. Ramokgopa pleaded with the NWC to delay this.

Ramaphosa called the special cabinet meeting after the NWC approved Ramokgopa’s proposal.

The M&G previously reported that Ramaphosa planned to use the meeting as a platform to give Ramokgopa some ministerial powers to operate in the utility.

“This will help the minister, who has been feeling like an errand boy, to have more powers to know what is happening in the utility and be part of the decision-makers,” said the insider.

“The minister has relied on the board to be told what is currently happening and cannot do anything about it because he is currently not a member of the board. He relies on Gordhan to have access. There’s no way to win with that arrangement.”

Ramaphosa has been unable to shake off the hold on energy that Mantashe and Gordhan have. 

The M&G reported how Mantashe gave Ramaphosa an ultimatum to fire him after the president made known his plans to take some powers from the energy ministry and transfer them to Ramokgopa last week. 

In January, while addressing the ANC’s Free State elective conference, Mantashe said there was a calculated plan to make sure the energy department was removed from his custodianship.

He complained that there had been internal discussions about splitting the department into two entities, one which would handle mineral resources and one overseeing energy.

“Within the ANC there is a new debate that says energy and mining must be split. 

“They will split energy from my department [of mineral resources and energy] then say they are taking Eskom to energy in terms of the resolution from the conference of the ANC,” said Mantashe at the time.

But this is the first time the plans have come to light. The clash between the two ANC leaders is said to have come after Ramokgopa reported back to Ramaphosa on his month-long oversight tour of Eskom power stations. 

Insiders said Ramokgopa met Ramaphosa about two weeks ago, detailing the systematic and structural rot at Eskom. He is said to have told the president the problems at Eskom were also policy driven. 

Ramokgopa had also raised concerns over his limited powers to fix the ailing power utility.

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