Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on Thursday said there was no deliberate delay on his part in bringing more renewable power to the grid to solve South Africa's energy crisis, but simultaneously declined to commit to timelines on signing up additional capacity.
"One of the things you like is time frames so that you can say 'you didn't do it'," he told journalists at a wide-ranging media briefing in Cape Town.
Mantashe responded to pressure to expedite Window 5 of the government's bidding programme to procure more renewable energy from independent power producers (IPPs) by saying there was a misconception that this alone could solve state utility Eskom's crippling capacity shortages.
"It is a misnomer to think that Window 5 will avoid loadshedding," he said of the rotational blackouts that resumed on Thursday morning, after a three-day respite, as Eskom lost more than 12 000 MW of its capacity.
The power utility said in December it needed an additional 5 000 MW of capacity to create a buffer as it sought to correct both a maintenance backlog and serious design flaws at new plants.
Mantashe noted that Window 4 would eventually yield 2,200 MW of renewable power and said there were further misconceptions, including that Window 5 could "overtake" the earlier bid window, and secondly that it would take nothing more than his signature to launch the next window and see IPPs immediately channel more energy into the grid.
The minister joked that whoever had additional renewable energy at the ready, without needing to build infrastructure first, must have been talking to everybody else besides his department.
"There is this thing that there is a lot of renewable energy around. Where is it?" asked Mantashe.
"Why are these people with a lot of energy talking to journalists and not coming to us? I hear of it from everybody except the department of energy. That is a red herring. There is no energy offered, so there is no delay."
Mantashe also gave his backing for the plan announced in President Cyril Ramaphosa's state of the nation address to establish a sovereign wealth fund.
He said while setting up the fund would fall to National Treasury, his department was proposing in its Upstream Petroleum Resource Development Bill that mining royalties eventually be redirected to the fund.
This appears to be an apparent reversal from the minister, who previously stated that the mining sector was in too much distress to contribute.
Thursday's briefing came as the so-called Eskom War Room was set to meet for the first time since it was announced in December. The endeavour has been revived to deal with the current crisis.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was alarmed that Mantashe signalled that he remained intent on establishing a second state-owned energy generation unit to stabilise supply.
DA energy spokesman Kevin Mileham described it as a "power play" by the minister.
Mantashe in fact placed emphasis on keeping the transmission capacity of Eskom within state hands once plans were implemented to unbundle the company's generation, distribution and transmission sections.
He said this was in line with the Chinese and Dutch models and was the most sensible option, in his view.