SA-US Partnership: A Focus on Energy Amidst Diplomatic Challenges

SA-US Partnership: A Focus on Energy Amidst Diplomatic Challenges


Amid the prevailing political narratives, the incident surrounding Lady R and the ongoing challenges presented by Eskom, the core of SA-US relations should pivot towards energy collaboration.

While much attention has been diverted to alleged Russian arms deals and their potential implications, it remains clear that the bond established between SA and the US remains strong, irrespective of periodic disruptions and further, that the pathway to bolstering this alliance is through energy security, an area demanding immediate focus and resource allocation.

Recent diplomatic exchanges emphasize the resilience of this relationship. The visit by US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, to South Africa, meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa and other dignitaries, underlines this commitment. Similarly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken accentuated the significance of the US-SA strategic alliance post the “Lady R incident”. Deputy Secretary Victoria Nuland’s recent trip to engage with South African leaders, paralleled by South African delegations to the US, further cements this connection.

In this regard, it is imperative to note that energy security is a central pillar of effective diplomacy. South Africa’s energy sector has faced disruptions for close to two decades, with persistent loadshedding since 2007 significantly impacting the economy. Current estimates indicate that power outages cost the economy between R204m-R899m per day.

The US has, however, demonstrated, at least in the public domain, that it is willing to assist. In 2013, the Power Africa initiative was launched under then-leadership of President Barack Obama with the objective of enhancing electricity access across Sub-Saharan Africa. This initiative, which harnesses the collective efforts of 12 US agencies, aims to finalize agreements leading to tangible power projects by providing essential financing and technical assistance. Over a decade, this effort has resulted in projects totaling 14,100MW, with 87 of them currently operational.

It is reported that South Africa has been a significant beneficiary of such this initiative. Under the Power Africa umbrella, South Africa has developed 3,180MW of electricity projects, culminating in more than 140,000 new connections.

Furthermore, a recent partnership between the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research, Power Africa, and the US Agency for International Development aims to further the development of microgrid technology. Such microgrids, essential for the future of decentralized energy, play a crucial role in ensuring a consistent energy supply and stabilizing the national grid.

Despite global challenges, the US government has publicly pledged its support for South Africa’s energy sector. Secretary Yellen, during her visit to South Africa, highlighted the Just Energy Transition Partnership, suggesting a significant US contribution of $1bn to South Africa’s energy transition efforts. The US has subsequently widely reported this partnership, and particularly so in light of Eskom’s recent $14bn bailout.

The recent interactions, particularly including Nuland’s engagements in Pretoria with South Africa’s energy stakeholders, underline the importance of the energy sector in SA-US relations. While the US is by no means the singular solution to South Africa’s energy challenges, its partnership in respect of energy projects, financial support, and technical expertise could suggest a promising collaborative future.

Nicola Taljaard

About Nicola Taljaard

Associate Designate at Primerio - LLB and LLM International Trade Law (cum laude) graduate from Stellenbosch University, focusing on areas of International Commercial Sales Law, Sustainable Development and Social Justice, International Law of Tax and Legal Aspects of World and Regional Trade. Nicola is currently employed as a candidate attorney at Primerio International, a pan-African law firm specialising in competition, trade and corporate law.

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