South Africa should leverage its relationship with China to find solution to its energy crises

South Africa needs to take advantage of the good relations it has with China- the two countries are partners in a number of multilateral forums- to address its energy problems, on both a short and long term basis.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Published Apr 20, 2023


Saeed Abdalla

South Africa is gripped by a devastating energy crisis with homes and businesses suffering blackouts- some times for long hours per day.

The failure of the country's national power utility—Eskom—to meet the country’s electricity demand has been ongoing for years, and is now in its worst period.

Power cuts have intensified this year, with load-shedding reaching up to ten-hours per day.

This is as the government warned that load shedding is expected to worsen when South Africa enters its winter months amid heightened demand.

The persisting electricity shortages has caused widespread concern about its impact on the country’s economic growth as well as on foreign investor confidence.

In March, the IMF warned that South Africa’s growth is set to decelerate sharply this year due to power cuts and further warned about the risk of economic stagnation.

At the same time, load shedding has dented the country’s reputation for having reliable infrastructure in the African continent- adversely affecting foreign investment .

To deal with the crises, president Cyril Ramaphosa in March appointed an electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who has since visited all Eskom power stations and he has several meetings with range of energy specialists, technical experts as well as stakeholders.

The minister has been tasked with finding immediate and long term solutions to South Africa’s energy crises.

Soon after his appointment, Ramokgopa met with the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, to discuss areas of collaboration to end the rolling blackouts.

South Africa has it eyes set on collaborating with China in five potential areas, which include, sourcing technical expertise, managing supply, training young people to meet demands for Solar PV installations, introducing micro-grids, as well as emergency power.

The request for assistance comes after Ramaphosa called on BRICS allies to use the expertise to help address South Africa’s energy crisis.

South Africa needs to take advantage of the good relations it has with China- the two countries are partners in a number of multilateral forums- to address its energy problems, on both a short and long term basis.

South Africa and China enjoy vibrant economic relations and China is by far South Africa’s largest global trading partner.

As China’s number one trading partner on the African continent, the stability of South Africa’s energy grid benefits both countries.

Given the extent of Chinese investment in South Africa, collaboration between the two countries to fix South Africa’s energy crises provides a win-win opportunity.

Furthermore, this is not the first time for China to collaborate on energy in the African content.

For example, In 2019 , Ethiopia and China signed a partnership agreement to invest in energy transmission and distribution lines for the nation's mega projects. They also agreed to invest $ 1.8 billion in electricity transmission and distribution networks in Ethiopia.

That partnership enabled Ethiopia to have a sustainable development given the fact that energy is the primary enabler of economic activity. The partnership was described as a wise investment.

When it comes to South Africa, China already has a foothold in the energy sector and they should build on their existing investments.

A Chinese energy company invested significantly in wind power in the Northern Cape since 2017- proving to be greatly successful.

While the focus is on emergency energy sources, China can assist South Africa in its renewable energy future.

The South Africa’s government should not waste its good relations with China as it struggles to deal with the crises at hand.

China can be more than just a trading partner and ally and South Africa should leverage this relationship for mutual benefit.

This giant economic power can help South Africa to deal with its short term emergency crisis as well as with future long term clean energy solutions.

Saeed Abdalla is a Sudanese-born foreign correspondent and mandarin scholar. He is based in Johannesburg and has a keen interest in Chinese-African affairs.