Loadshedding nightmare returns for South Africa

By Karibu Staff

Load-shedding has ‘returned’ after at almost 3 years. This is barely a month since the Chief Executive Office of Eskom, Phakamani Radebe has assured the public that “there will be not be loadshedding this year”. The issue of loadshedding by Eskom has become linked closely to the battle over “state-capture”. Former CEO of Eskom Brian Molefe is widely, if grudgingly, credited with having resolved the loadshedding crisis which began in 2008. Many now in the new Eskom board and leadership, including the government of President Ramaphosa, are under pressure to show that they can manage the grid better than the “captured” Molefe, and so the assurances that no loadshedding was going to take place in 2018. Eskom however has a serious problem that may well see loadshedding return on an ongoing basis. These include shortage of coal, changes in the business model that is making these shortages worse, pressure from big capital to reverse many of the decisions made by former CEO Molefe, and so on. The threat of a strike by workers, and the demonstrations that followed the deadlock in wage talks, has come as a welcome public relations gift for Eskom.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe has basically attributed these episodes to “acts of intimidation and sabotage” at some of the parastatal’s power stations‚ saying this conspiracy “has begun to threaten the security of power supply.” This comes as Eskom workers have been demonstrating demanding a 15% wage. According to workers their demand for an increase follows a VAT hike to 15% and a recent fuel increase to R15,79 a litre of petrol and R14,19c a litre of diesel, and this has a domino effect on the costs of various products.

NUMSA spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said Eskom portrays their members as “violent savages” following Phasiwe’s comments that Eskom members were responsible for some of the load-shedding at some stations. Hlubi-Majola questioned whether there is a conspiracy by executives of Eskom instead, asking: “How do we know that the executives at Eskom are not responsible for sabotaging their own network?” Exacerbating this protrayal of workers as “violent savages”, economist Mike Schüssler tweeted that Eskom workers earned R798 000 per annum which unions representing workers have rejected as fake news.

Hlubi-Majola further noted that Eskom executives have a vested interest before confirming that members of NUMSA were picketing alongside those of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Thursday, 14 June 2018.

Eskom workers embarked on protest for wage increase but have been told that Eskom cannot afford any wage increases. In a joint statement, NUMSA and NUM dismissed Eskom reasoning that it does not have money and must freeze wages. The unions said that the parastatal should not punish workers for it’s own decisions made earlier. These decisions include the taking of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to build new stations, as well as failure to collect millions of money owed by municipalities to Eskom. The Independent Power Producers (IPPs) cost Eskom billions according to some sources, while also causing complications at the national grid, this despite the country having surplus energy, according to NUM spokesperson, David Sipunzi. The position of Eskom is the same as punishing workers and continuing with IPPs at the expense of workers, the unions argued. At the time of writing the state had reopened talks with workers and an offer of 4,7% was made.

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