The concept of a low-carbon transition is increasingly gaining traction in South Africa. This constitutes a major technical, social and political challenge as the national energy sector highly depends on coal. Analyzing the driving factors for the ongoing dominance of coal, this case study identifies main actors, objectives and the relevant contextual factors forming the political economy of energy and coal. For this purpose, a qualitative analysis of semi-structured expert interviews was carried out. The findings yield four main objectives: “Energy availability”, “Maintaining profitability of the coal sector”, “Environmental and climate protection” and “Reducing inequalities and employment insecurity”. Pressing social issues, such as severe social inequality and high unemployment, lead to a complex and multilayered political and social context. While incumbents and powerful coal favoring actors try to maintain the status quo, there is a slow but steady increase in legislation favoring the uptake of low-carbon alternatives.