Lights out for President Ramaphosa’s participation at WEF

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President Cyril Ramaphosa’s initial plan to lead the delegates to the 53rd annual conference of the World Economic Forum (WEF), was interrupted by the country’s crippling energy crisis.

Although the president made a public announcement of his last-minute withdrawal from the post-COVID gathering at Davos in Switzerland in order to address the outcry by South Africans over excessive power cuts, SA’s team led by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana continued in their agenda to lure foreign investors into sustaining economic relations with the country and the African continent more broadly.

President Ramaphosa, who had formerly been accused of turning a blind eye to the Eskom power crisis when he decided to carry out discussions with US president Joe Biden last September, and another meeting with King Charles III later that November, has put a pause on his international visits to reprioritise a recovery plan against constraint power supply in South Africa (SA).

While devastated South Africans waited what implementation measures will come from the President’s urgent meeting with the Eskom board, several leaders of political parties and the National Energy Crisis Committee, the world also waited to hear from SA representatives at the WEF, who are tasked with the heavy mandate of demonstrating why SA should still be counted as a favourable investment destination, despite rolling blackouts which have threatened the future of both local and international companies doing business in the country.

Apart from the international scandal surrounding the Phala Phala farm robbery case, President Ramaphosa’s re-election rivalry with former president Jacob Zuma, and report warnings about SA getting grey-listed, other domestic challenges that are currently undermining SA’s efforts towards resolving the energy conundrum include: the resignation of Eskom’s Group CEO, Andre de Ruyter, the environmental implications of Eskom’s coal emissions, and the capture of the state-owned entities by corruption.

Without a stable leadership, the much-needed law enforcement to combat deeply embedded corruption practises that have become a norm in Eskom, cannot be executed to its fullest capacity. Furthermore, the Western corporate body in the WEF is aware of Eskom’s emissive contributions to climate change, and SA is aware of what an attractive source of power renewable energy can be on the international stage. Without sufficient capital to fund and monitor a renewable energy programme, SA may risk losing its credibility as an environmentally safe hub for business investors in the energy sector.

All this to say that while state visits to collaboration platforms such as the WEF are important to strengthen intercontinental partnership that promote foreign direct investment and trade, the South African delegation had a struggle to add value to future international deliberations on investment opportunities, if the internal issue of energy insecurity is not addressed.

Therefore, finding emergency solutions to reform the energy sector, and not just to reduce the effects of power outages, is a strategy that will positively benefit SA both at a national, as well as global level.

  • Divine Yamulamba is a research intern at The Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation