Opinionista Irvin Jim 5 May 2017

Numsa demands a socially owned energy renewables programme

To satisfy the north, the ANC-led government, with their so-called Communist partners in tow, were quick to make energy commitments to reduce emissions by moving to renewables. They did this without advancing the interests of the South African working class such as by demanding that all technology used on renewables should be produced and manufactured locally.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) notes the decision of the Western Cape High Court which found that government’s deals with various countries on nuclear energy are unlawful. It also found that Government’s process to roll out nuclear power has been found to be unconstitutional.

As Numsa we are not opposed to energy mix which could include nuclear energy as a matter of principle. However, in a country such as ours, where we should be moving urgently to resolve the needs of our people, and where the need to industrialise is primary, our starting point should be to protect, expand and democratise the current capacity for manufacturing. We should do nothing that reduces the already dangerously few jobs in the current capacity of manufacturing. Whatever measures we are taking should champion a jobs-led industrial strategy which is needed to build a modern economy.

In the energy sector, the goal should be a just transition from fossil fuels without destroying jobs. Sadly, this is not what this government is aiming for.

Instead, this ANC-led government voluntarily chose not to restructure the South African economy and for the past 23 years it has refused to address the fundamentals of ownership and control of the economy. Furthermore, it chose not to champion a job-led industrial strategy with a state that intervenes in the economy. These were all conscious choices.

Instead, the ANC government wanted to be the darling of the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and the rest of the Davos crowd. As a result, they adopted policies that destroyed both the economy and jobs. It was the ANC government that, against our explicit objection as Numsa, went ahead and reduced import tariffs (more than even what was stipulated in the WTO). This allowed dumping of goods and has led to wide-scale destruction of jobs and a high level of de-industrialisation in many sectors of the economy – the exact opposite of what we require as a country.

Furthermore, the ANC government cannot claim ignorance. As Numsa we have warned them at every point when they made strategic mistakes and betrayed the working class. And now their catastrophic errors have deepened the pre-existing racist colonial poverty, joblessness and persisting extreme inequality.

Yet, in spite of the ANC government’s myopic and foolish adoption and implementation of neoliberal policies, at the expense of the working class, their masters in the West still do not trust them. It is called “confidence”, in market parlance. And the neoliberals use this tool very effectively. They flex their power, register their dissatisfaction with their ANC minions frequently and with relish, by withdrawing their money from the South African economy and crashing the rand. And the ANC government, in its permanent state of ideological confusion, removed exchange controls, allowing even more money to flow out of the country, both legally and illegally. The ANC handed its western masters the whip with which they use to lash it into submission.

The ANC government is so confused that they have resisted the simple act of banning the export of scrap metal. This has allowed for the closure of more than seven foundries and has destroyed thousands of jobs.

The permanent state of confusion and ideological impotence permeates right through the Alliance. Both Cosatu and the SACP have long succumbed to the lure of the West. They are in alliance with an ANC government that has boldly been seeking the endorsement of the north, in particular the United States of America and Europe. In its myopic confusion, the government forgot such fundamentals as the fact that the economies of the US and Europe were built on the back of fossil fuels, yet they are being held hostage by the same imperialist forces.

The negotiated settlement that was enshrined in the Constitution of 1996 has only served to preserve colonialism, capitalism and imperialism through other means. The majority of South Africans, who are black, working class and female, continue to be the victims of this system.

Under the leadership of the ANC and its partners-in-confusion, the SACP and Cosatu, this government has failed to restructure the South African economy and to affirm blacks to be part of the ownership and control of the economy. They have refused to undo the Land Act of 1913. In confusion, they accepted hollow political power to run a national budget on behalf of white monopoly capital which they have little control over, and whose actual size is strictly limited and controlled not to go beyond a certain amount of GDP.

To satisfy the north, the ANC-led government, with their so-called Communist partners in tow, were quick to make energy commitments to reduce emissions by moving to renewables. They did this without advancing the interests of the South African working class such as by demanding that all technology used on renewables should be produced and manufactured locally. They failed to insist that we should have a wholly South African-owned sector which will be structured from the onset to benefit the black majority. Instead the ANC and its partners-in-confusion, Cosatu and the SACP, agreed to a green revolution without addressing the fundamental socio-economic and political context of South Africa. Their green revolution is nothing more than a second phase of Africa’s colonisation and dominance by the north on the renewables front.

By failing to seek clarity, to study and to analyse the global political economy properly, the Alliance betrayed the values of OR Tambo. If indeed the ANC were anything at all like Tambo they would have resisted fashionable integration into the Western-dominated economic global environment without thorough understanding of what the implications would be for the nation.

Numsa does not suffer from any confusion, ideological or otherwise. We are clear on Eskom’s core mandate, which is to electrify the country and to deliver affordable electricity to the society and the economy. This will help to deal with unemployment and it can be used to South Africa’s competitive advantage. We lost that advantage the day Eskom mines were ceded to the private sector to mine them on Eskom’s behalf, at an exorbitant cost. Now that Eskom electricity prices have become unaffordably high, the primary victims are poor, urban and rural communities who frequently suffer cut-offs, and of course the economy.

It is against this background that Numsa is totally opposed to the opportunistic introduction of new nuclear power stations in South Africa by the ANC government. Numsa is dismayed by this rash and senseless act of implementing the nuclear deal at all costs.

The ANC government is prepared to close five coal power stations, thereby destroying close to 40,000 jobs. There is no sane reason to justify a move from paying 35 cents to R2.40 cents per kilowatt, as will happen once the renewables are on board.

It is patently obvious that with the coming on board to the national grid of Medupi, Kusile and Ingula power stations, this country has enough electricity for the foreseeable future, especially in light of the fact that, according to Eskom themselves, we are already at surplus electricity production.

We do not need the nuclear option yet, which in any case is unaffordable and will result in an even further increase in electricity prices. Manufacturers and SMMEs which are already struggling to afford the current tariff will have to close shop. This will destroy whatever jobs remain in the industrial sector.

In addition, the closure of these stations will render vast swathes of rural Mpumalanga into ghost towns, where the power stations are located. No impact study of the closure of these stations has been conducted on the associated value chain. The public can expect a bloodbath of job losses.

That is why Numsa has notified Nedlac of its intention to embark on the mother of all strikes to protest against this senseless decision. We will also continue to remain vigilant on the issue of nuclear power because these decisions were not made with the interests of the majority in mind, who are the working class black, female and poor.

The decision to embark on nuclear energy was motivated by greed from within the ruling party, the ANC, as they continue to seek new ways to loot the state.

What would help the ANC government and its alliance partners, the SACP and Cosatu, is:

  1. To stop the empty rhetoric on radical economic transformation and actually carry this out in practice, as only actions, and no amount of talking, will solve the serious problems that face this country.
  2. The ANC should get serious about corruption and stop the myriad scandals that bedevil both their government and party. Instead they should focus on nationalisation of all key sectors of the economy by placing them firmly under worker control. For instance, there is nothing stopping this government from nationalising the steel industry and the whole value chain and placing it under worker control in order to create jobs.
  3. The ANC should stop being a prisoner of rating agencies.
  4. The government should reconstitute all the SOE (State-Owned Enterprises) boards with credible people from all sectors of society, particularly workers. The focus should be on implementing a turnaround strategy which will transform the SOEs from institutions riddled with cronyism and corruption to institutions that are sources of national pride which contribute to the economy, and to the well-being of workers and their families, and which will drive the economic, and also advance the technological and societal, development of all South Africans.
  5. This government should with speed move away from a tendering system and move back to building the capacity of the state by employing workers directly to build infrastructure such as roads, houses and schools.
  6. The government must fill all vacancies in the public service.
  7. The government has a duty to professionalise the education, health and security services and to restore pride and dignity to teachers, nurses, traffic and police officers as these are crucial sectors of the states’ provision of services to South Africans. They should pay these workers respectable wages and endeavour to improve their working conditions, while professionalising their jobs so that they can provide a vastly improved service that is reflective of the principle of Batho Pele or the People First.

Sadly, we do not believe that the ANC and its partners are capable of changing course and reorienting the country away from the disastrous debt-driven, failed “trickle-down” growth economics that have been espoused by the neoliberal West, to a socialist, worker controlled and radically transformed economy that creates jobs and benefits all South Africans. That is why Numsa is working to build a workers’ party that will be a real agent for change in South Africa. DM

Irvin Jim is General Secretary of Numsa.

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