Mr President, listen now before its too late

November 17 - NUM members marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand over a memorandum against Eskom's plans to retrench workers. Photo: ANA

Comrade President, you instilled hope into workers and made them to believe in you, hence they supported you to ascend into the country’s number one office. In your own words, unemployment was the greatest challenge facing the country at this moment, unemployment diminishes the ability to eradicate poverty, tackle inequality and improve the lives of the working class and poor. Unemployment has a devastating effect on families and communities, eroding people’s dignity and contributing to social problems like poor health, poor education outcomes, substance abuse and crime.

But Comrade President Matamela, those seem to be words you normally utter in passing. For the fact that you avoided to meet the very same workers you led 36 years ago demonstrate that you are not ready to listen to any of their grievances. Members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) came in numbers last weekend hoping to interact with you at Union Buildings, but were told you are not available.

Comrade President, as you are clearly aware, those workers in the mining, energy and construction sectors are continually excluded in the main economy of Republic. They are, on a daily basis, mutilated, electrocuted, lost lives and limbs while building the economy of this country, driven by minerals and the proceeds thereof landed in the plates of connected families, the elite and the petty bourgeoisie.

As you might until today aware that workers are flabbergasted by the Government intention to drive thousands of workers in SABC, Eskom; Denel as well as reduction of 30% of public sector workers, to the dungeon of joblessness. Mine and energy workers in particular are seriously touched and angry by the intentions to close coal mines, close electricity power stations, and the intentions to introduce Independent Power Producers (IPPS) to deliberately privatise power utility, Eskom.

For your information Comrade President, the coal industry employed about 82,248 workers in 2017 representing 17 % of total employment in the mine. In 2017 the industry produced 252 million tons of coal, with total coal sales of R130 million. 70% of coal volume is consumed domestically.

Coal has been the driving force behind electricity generation. Eskom’s coal fired power station produce approximately 90% of its electricity. It provides reliable electricity from an installed electricity capacity of 37,745MW. And for the record, NUM is not opposed to renewable energy, but its introduction should be fair and not against the working class. NUM is not against cleaner energy but cleaner energy must be independent and operate as an independent entity and compete with Eskom. What is so difficult with that Comrade President?

The midnight signing of 27 IPP’S has burden consumers with unwanted and expensive electricity. We were told that R56 billion will be investment in the economy yet we found ourselves in recession.  We have warned government and Eskom that IPP cost will cripple Eskom’s balance sheet. Over the next 20 years, R1, 4 trillion, in nominal terms will be spent for approximately 7300 MW. IPP’S present a clear risk of privatizing profits whilst socializing costs of renewable IPP’S.

The Eskom conversion act, 2001 has converted Eskom into a public utility, with Government of South Africa as the only shareholder, directed to produce reliable electricity at an affordable price. The consumers, taxpayers and workers bear the brunt of government courtship with private power producers. Workers in the coal and energy sector are appealing to you Comrade President to stop with immediate effect any intentions to retrench workers. They are also calling on you to immediately avail yourself for talks, the least being before Christmas Holidays, so that an amicable solution could be sourced and implemented.

Luphert Chilwane is a Media Officer at the National Union of Mineworkers.