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South African union and communities march against privatization of Eskom

16 December, 2021Hundreds of workers and affected communities marched to the offices of Eskom in Johannesburg on 11 December to protest the privatization of the public power utility which they say is leading to job losses for tens of thousands of workers and will make electricity unaffordable to poor communities.

According to government announcements there are plans to split Eskom into generation, transmission, and distribution units to improve the availability of electricity and end frequent power cuts caused by increasing demand and ageing infrastructure among other factors.

During the march, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, presented a list of demands to the Eskom management. These included stopping the unbundling, dissolving the Eskom board and the immediate resignation of the management. The union also wants conditions of service for workers to be reinstated and for a 15 per cent wage increase to be given. Additionally, it demands that the “premature” closing of coal power stations be halted.

Further, the NUM wants the renewable energy power purchase agreements to be reviewed to include Eskom as one the power producers. Currently, renewable power production is done by independent power producers. The union says it supports an energy mix policy that protects jobs, ends poverty, and stops the “looting” of state resources through corruption. The NUM is also urging Eskom to negotiate affordable payment terms with communities in Soweto, Johannesburg, whose power supplies were disconnected.

William Mabapa, NUM acting general secretary says the union is against plans to transform the power utility into a profit-making entity.

“The NUM is against the privatization of state-owned enterprises. Our government must put the interests of the people first before those of private businesses. Eskom is a vital and strategic public utility for the South African economy’s development needs and electricity must be considered a public good.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“Job security and preservation of benefits are crucial issues for our affiliates – the NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – that organize at Eskom. Additionally, the unions are demanding that community and social interests should be protected in the Just Transition to renewable energy sources. To protect these interests, we call upon the Eskom management to consult with unions and affected communities before any changes are implemented.”

An agreement signed at COP26 will see rich countries funding the decarbonization of Eskom. However, unions are concerned that this will be used as a pretext for privatization, and demand that the parties stick to the Just Transition Declaration.