South African Energy Minister Has Covid-19 Amid Power Crisis

South African Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe tested positive for Covid-19 as the nation struggles to end a new round of power cuts and curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mantashe will remain in isolation with his wife and work from home, South Africa’s presidency said in a statement late Tuesday. He is the first cabinet minister in the country to be diagnosed with the disease.

“The minister remains committed to a course of ensuring security of energy and petroleum products supply,” it said.

State-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. is set to continue rotational blackouts for a sixth day on Wednesday after outages at its unreliable coal-fired power plants. This electricity cuts are taking place during the coldest month of the year and as Covid-19 patients rapidly fill the nation’s hospitals.

Mantashe has pledged to ensure security of electricity supply, but efforts to procure emergency power are hamstrung by policy and regulatory delays. A request for proposals for the emergency procurement of 2,000 megawatts is being finalized for the end of the month, the department said in response to questions. Those projects are expected to be online six to 18 months after financing is concluded.

The minister is a key ally of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who stressed the importance of boosting power generation in his February state-of-the-nation address.

Mantashe already had a crucial role as mining minister when his portfolio was broadened to include energy. There have been ongoing challenges by companies to the nation’s mining charter that remain unresolved.

“Energy and mining policy developments have slowed to a snail’s pace due to special interests within the ruling party contesting policies,” said Darias Jonker, a London-based director at Eurasia Group Ltd. Mantashe’s expected absence from work for a week or two “is unlikely to put a drag on an already slow pace,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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