Q&A: Thokozile Zambane, Partner & Chief Operating Officer, BAYAKHA Infrastructure Partners
Published 1st April 2022
By Kamogelo Motse, Research Associate, Climate Council
- What does your role as Partner and Chief Operating Officer of BAYAKHA Infrastructure Partners entail?
I am responsible for leading the firm’s operational strategy which includes ensuring adequate business processes and operational ability as well as the management and oversight of Bayakha’s statutory obligations. My role also includes deal origination and supporting Bayakha’s fundraising and investment activities, where I lead legal review and oversee ESG compliance.
- Do you think your degree as a lawyer and your time as a practicing attorney prepared you for the career path you have chosen?
Legal skills are critical across all sectors, so I always knew that studying law would open doors for me. I spent most of my time as a practicing attorney in the Banking and Finance Team of Norton Rose Fulbright where I acted for major corporates, financial institutions and state-owned entities gaining significant structuring, negotiation and deal management experience while working on a number of ground-breaking infrastructure development and PPP Projects.
It is this experience as well as the project development experience I gained after leaving practice that has provided me with an in depth understanding of the large-scale project development and financing which has prepared my chosen career path.
- What made you want to choose a career in investing and especially into renewable energy projects?
I remember working on the financing of projects that were part of bid window 1 of South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement REIPPP Programme and being blown away by the potential socio-economic development impact that could be achieved by a single renewable energy project – little did I know at the time that renewable energy would go on to significantly shape my professional and entrepreneurial journey. Fast forward to ten years later and I have been fortunate enough to work in various roles across the value chain as a project finance lawyer, project developer, facilitator, independent trustee and now as an investor and I could not think of a better sector to dedicate my life to.
- What do you enjoy about working in the energy sector?
The multiplier effect of energy should not be underestimated, energy is an enabler and fosters economic development by creating jobs, facilitating health care and education, supporting infrastructure development and enables food production and water supply. However, as a woman, working in the energy sector has a deeper and more personal motive, women are hardest hit by energy poverty, and we therefore have a vested interest in addressing this challenge. Unfortunately, with women only accounting for just 22-25% of total employees in the power sector, we still have a long way to go. My work in the energy sector gives me an opportunity to give a voice that would not have ordinarily been heard.
- What are your thoughts around the progress of the renewable energy sector in South Africa?
Over the past 5 years we have seen the South African renewable energy sector grow with more entrepreneurs viewing renewable energy as a business opportunity and the high barriers to entry for those wishing to participate in the sector such as limited access to technology, skills, market and finance being significantly reduced. The average electrician is becoming well versed in solar PV and now has direct access to reputable suppliers and technical skills. I would however argue that access to finance remains a barrier for smaller market entrants.
Consumers are also driving the use of renewable energy such as solar PV; they are recognizing it as an increasingly competitive energy source and are opting to reduce their reliance on Eskom.
The lifting of the threshold for embedded generation to 100MW has also removed a significant obstacle to investment in embedded generation projects in South Africa and presents an exciting opportunity in the commercial and industrial PPA space and we are already seeing large energy consumers shifting towards power generation outside Eskom.
It is also encouraging to see that the REIPPP Programme is back on track with financial close for being bid window 5 being anticipated in April and the release of the bid window 6 RFP being imminent.
- What advice would you give a young woman wanting to go into the career of investing in clean energy infrastructure projects?
I strongly believe in controlling the controllable, so in navigating the sector I have focused on managing what is within my control which meant playing to my strengths in order to turn my intersection of prejudice into an intersection of power.
Being different in a homogeneous space has allowed me to bring a different perspective to the room and consider issues that would’ve otherwise been overlooked and in that way add value. I have focused on 3 building blocks:
- Competence Builds Confidence – The more you pour into your own personal and professional development, the more confident you will feel and the less daunting the journey will be.
- Find Allies – Join networks and industry associations, identify mentors and sponsors, have allies that will mention your name in a room full of opportunities.
- Understand your USP – It is important that you understand what your unique selling proposition is – what makes you stand out in a room full of your peers. Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on who you are, your inherent strengths and talents.
And lastly, it is ok to feel overwhelmed when starting a new journey and although few will admit it, everyone doubts themselves sometimes – what matters is that you keep showing up and keep trying. This is a dynamic industry that will shape the future of the African continent and your voice as a young woman has never been more crucial to ensure that women’s needs and challenges are considered in infrastructure development.
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