South Africa Energy Minister Accused Of Hindering Green Transition

FILE - Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy of South Africa Gwede Mantashe arrives ahead of the 2023 state-of-the-nation address (SONA) at the Cape Town City Hall in Cape Town, Feb. 9, 2023.

South Africa’s energy minister was accused of failing to back the country’s energy transition on Sunday after he “snubbed” a billion-dollar green hydrogen deal launched in partnership with the Netherlands and Denmark.

The country’s biggest opposition party said energy minister Gwede Mantashe had not signed an agreement on the fund, which was approved and launched anyway on Tuesday.

South Africa is facing a power crisis with scheduled outages that last up to 12 hours a day, and the move has sparked a renewed debate on the transition to cleaner energy.

The transition has been mired with infighting among the government, which has a long history of support from labour unions representing mine workers.

According to South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, Mantashe said he “refused” to sign a memorandum of understanding on the deal.

The opposition Democratic Alliance said it was “unacceptable” and called for the minister’s removal from office.

“Mantashe’s recent decision to snub the top-level meeting… with European leaders to launch a European-funded green-energy initiative is deeply concerning”, the party said.

“We cannot afford a recalcitrant and ideologically compromised minister at the helm of the energy portfolio,” it added, accusing Mantashe of “hindering the much-needed rapid and just energy transition”.

Despite being invited, Mantashe did not attend the deal’s launch at business forum in Pretoria, opting to attend a separate energy summit hosted by a leading trade union federation.

Energy ministry spokesman Nathi Shabangu told AFP the minister’s absence did not signal his disagreement with the deal, insisting that he simply did not sign “because he had not seen the MOU he could not sign on what he had not seen”.

The blended finance fund will “accelerate the development of a green hydrogen sector and circular economy,” the president’s office said earlier this week.

Mantashe has in the past been vocal in his support for the coal lobby, saying last year that ditching coal too quickly was not in the country’s best interests, citing economic damage and job losses.

Since 2021, South Africa, which is one of the world’s top 12 carbon emitters, has secured billions of dollars in international loans and grants to support a green transition.

The coal-rich but energy-starved country generates about 80 percent of its electricity through coal, relying on 15 ageing coal-fired power plants.