‘Pit bull’ DA’s stance on nuclear is undermining spirit of co-governing

Minister of Electricity and Energy Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Photo: Fikile Marakalla/ GCIS

Minister of Electricity and Energy Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Photo: Fikile Marakalla/ GCIS

Published Jul 10, 2024


There’s trouble in the Government of National Unity (GNU) paradise. It has been just over a week since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the new Cabinet and ministerial line-up.

The wheels of the GNU, which has been highly praised by the markets, have started showing signs of falling off.

As I predicted in last week’s column, potential ministerial conflict could dim SA’s lights in the fight for control of Eskom. There is a huge clash of egos between Minister of Electricity and Energy Kgosientsho Ramokgopa (ANC) and Deputy Minister of Electricity and Energy Kevin Mileham (DA) over the proposed 2 500 megawatt nuclear procurement programme and policy trajectory.

Before the end of the sixth administration and the 2024 national general elections, the DA took the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to court over the approval of the 2 500MW nuclear build programme.

In a sudden policy rant, the DA said it noted, “with concern”, the statements by Ramokgopa that the procurement of 2500MW of new nuclear power was ”at an advanced stage” and his department was “finalising the procurement structure” of the project.

If you didn’t know South African politics, you would swear that the words were from an opposition party to the ANC. To make matters worse, Mileham, who is married to the DA’s Natasha Mazzone, has thrown the GNU government into a tailspin with the party’s opposition towards the nuclear procurement programme.

Tumelo @tumelo29687590, on social media platform X, said: “We warn them against going into coalition with the DA every ANC policy will be rejected by the DA.” He was responding to the DA’s rejection of the nuclear power build programme. Many black South Africans do not have confidence in the GNU government.

Stunner @thirteen37rose, on X, replied: “Why would you reject something that will benefit the country as a whole, esp a country with an energy crisis. Even Burkina Faso is building a Nuclear Power Plant.”

Furthermore, “the DA is currently challenging the Nersa decision to concur with the procurement of 2500MW of new nuclear power on the grounds of procedural irregularity and irrationality”.

Here is where it gets confusing and interesting at the same time. Why is the DA, a party that formed that GNU and belongs to the GNU, opposing a policy initiative driven by its own GNU party and co-governing partner?

Someone needs to call Cape Town and tell the DA to wake and smell the coffee. The DA is no longer an opposition party sitting in opposition benches; it is a co-governing and ruling party, together with the ANC.

In a civilised world, if there is tension over decisions in a family, out of mutual respect, a courteous concerned partner would first exhaust the internal means and mechanisms to communicate and negotiate the issue.

The DA, instead of picking up the phone to call its own deputy minister in the Department of Energy and Electricity, Samantha Graham-Maré, to raise concerns about the nuclear procurement deal, chose to run to the media with a statement of grievances.

It proves to those who are sceptical of the GNU arrangement that it is indeed a farce. It is more akin to a bad rendition of a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon than that of a united government.

And what is wrong with the GNU government procuring nuclear energy? South Africa needs additional energy capacity to assist the struggling power plants. For the economy and gross domestic product that needs to grow, a 2 500MW nuclear build would play a pivotal role in driving growth.

In response to the DA’s objection, Ramokgopa said: “The DA has the right to challenge the government’s plan to procure 2 500 megawatts of nuclear power. Although the nuclear plan requires approval from the National Treasury, it is not going away.”

The inter-ministerial and party policy squabbles are certainly not good for the GNU structure. The GNU relation is premised on a 60% threshold requirement before any decisions are made between the first and second coalition partner. This is going to be a difficult relationship.

Explaining the reason for its objection, the DA states: “It is worth noting that the intervening period of two years between the original Nersa ruling (with suspensive conditions) and the final concurrence in August 2023 would have necessitated further public consultations on the need and desirability of nuclear power. These did not occur. Furthermore, Nersa directed (in August 2021) that the determination include the requirement that procurement occur under an Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) model. This was ignored in the final determination gazetted in 2023.”

Although the DA agrees that “nuclear power remains a key component of South Africa’s electricity generation mix for the foreseeable future. The DA demands, however, that compliance with all regulatory and safety requirements, and needs to demonstrate affordability. The government has failed to show either the cost or electricity demand analysis required of it to make this determination.

“The DA demands that Minister Ramokgopa immediately review the ministerial determination to procure new nuclear power and take the appropriate steps to rectify the non-compliance, failing which our legal challenge on procedural and rationality grounds will proceed”.

Thus, the DA does not yet behave like co-governing ruling parties in charge of the joint decision making in the energy and electricity sector. Rather, the DA seem fixated on playing the pitbull in the GNU co-governing arrangement.

Well, the time for GNU parties to pull and push all over the show is over. The public need to see GNU leaders taking their jobs seriously in leading and delivering the promises of the unity government.

Dispute resolution mechanisms would require that both the ANC and DA must call a National Executive Committee - Federal Executive (FedEx) lekgotla.

However, further delays in policy implementation will hurt the capacity of this new government of unity to deliver on its development promises and erode the current markets positive sentiment due to policy uncertainty.

The parties have made public promises during the 2024 elections run-off and now is the time for them to implement and deliver the promises.

We need new nuclear build programmes in South Africa and 2 500MW is not even enough to address the energy crisis that is engulfing South Africa and its economy. The time for politicking is over.

Will the DA play along in pushing for investment in developing the new energy capacity power plants and work tirelessly to rebuild the lost energy capacity in South Africa? Or is it stuck in an opposition-groove play mode?

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of “Business Report” and Independent Media.