JOHANNESBURG – With just two months left before the elections, unions at Eskom have warned of a shut down that could leave the country in the dark in the days leading up to the polls.
There have been rolling outages in recent months as Eskom struggles to generate enough power while scrambling to fix the over-indebted utility that has been described as the single biggest risk to the economy.
But differences between the African National Congress (ANC)-led government and organised labour on how the power utility can be rescued have come to a head, with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) being the latest union to threaten a shut down of the country over the decision to unbundle Eskom into three entities.
The NUM has taken aim at the ANC, resolving on Tuesday that thousands of its members would be marching to Luthuli House at the end of March before engaging in a shut down from 3 May until after the elections.
“The units will shut themselves down because we won’t be at work,” NUM general secretary David Sipunzi told Eyewitness News on Tuesday.
Last month, the union said it had no faith in the ANC following a meeting with its top leaders on the unbundling of Eskom and the deal with independent power producers, even going as far as to say that should the need arise, a national congress would be convened to reverse a prior decision to support the ANC during the elections.
The NUM is an affiliate of Cosatu, which was the first organisation to endorse President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to lead the ANC and ultimately the country.
But even Cosatu leaders are at odds with the president after a meeting with him and some members of his Cabinet held last month failed to ease the fears labour has that the unbundling would lead to mass job losses.
At the time, Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the factors that influence the president’s reassurances could change, leaving workers in the lurch.
Despite the differences, a Cosatu central executive committee decided the federation would continue to back the ANC and campaign for the party during the elections. But it now seems that the decision was not supported overwhelmingly, with the NUM’s departure from the line of march indicative of an organisation stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“So far, there is no guarantee or a solid commitment that signal there would not be retrenchments during the unbundling process. It is widely believed that the move will result in many job losses,” Sipunzi said on Tuesday.
“Secondly, the board of Eskom has totally failed in their duties to develop a turnaround strategy towards the improvement of Eskom’s performance,” he added.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) – which is yet to announce its own plan of action – has also threatened to shut down the country over the issues at Eskom.
Ironically, it was Numsa’s decision not to support the ANC during the 2014 polls, among other reasons, that got it expelled from Cosatu.