Opinionista Luphert Chilwane 20 November 2018

President Cyril Ramaphosa had better listen to workers before it is too late

Mine and energy workers in particular are seriously affected and angered by the intention to close coal mines, close electricity power stations, and the plans to introduce Independent Power Producers to deliberately privatise power utility Eskom.

Comrade President, you instilled hope into workers and made them believe in you; hence they supported you to ascend to 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 such as 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 meeting the very same workers you led 36 years ago demonstrates that you are not ready to listen to any of their grievances.

Members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) came in numbers on Saturday hoping to interact with you at Union Buildings, but were told you were not available.

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

Workers are flabbergasted by government’s intention to drive thousands of workers in the SABC, Eskom, Denel as well as 30% of public sector workers, to the dungeon of joblessness.

Mine and energy workers in particular are seriously affected and angered by the intention to close coal mines, close electricity power stations, and the plans 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 mines. In 2017 the industry produced 252 million tons of coal, with total coal sales of R130-million. Of this volume, 70% is consumed domestically.

Coal has been the driving force behind electricity generation. Eskom’s coal-fired power stations produce about 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 IPPs has burden consumers with unwanted and expensive electricity. We were told that R56-billion will be invested in the economy, yet we found ourselves in recession. We have warned government and Eskom that the IPP cost will cripple Eskom’s balance sheet.

Over the next 20 years, R1.4-trillion in nominal terms will be spent for about 7,300MW. IPPs present a clear risk of privatising profits while socialising the costs of renewable IPPs.

The Eskom Conversion Act, 2001 converted Eskom into a public utility, with the 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, at least before the Christmas holidays, so that an amicable solution can be sourced and implemented. DM

Luphert Chilwane is a media officer at the National Union of Mineworkers.

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