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Eskom strike a case of dog eat dog in a spectacle of th...

Defend Truth


Eskom strike a case of dog eat dog in a spectacle of the blind leading the blind


Gavin Hartford has been a leading trade unionist, a senior CCMA commissioner and a private mediator/facilitator and founded a specialist employee ownership advisory and management company. Today he works as a consultant to assist companies and labour design and implement wealth-sharing and employee alignment solutions. He specialises in innovative solutions to grow value more sustainably and share wealth more equitably. He writes from his personal experience.

The hard truth is that we are leaderless across the board of our glorified stakeholders in government, business and labour. The Eskom strike shows us the underbelly of the social compact dribble. In reality, we are on autopilot as we spiral deeper into the poverty abyss.

It strikes this jaundiced observer as odd, bordering on the insane, that today we have the absurd scenario in which the founding Saftu and Cosatu affiliates, Numsa and the NUM, respectively – which both declare themselves governed by workers’ democracy and control principles – completely deny any responsibility or even support for the industrial action taken by their members at Eskom.

Surely we cannot have it both ways? We cannot say, hand on heart, as a founding principle of our unions and our federations, that we uphold the principle of worker control and democracy, and then disown our members when they exercise the very rights of workers’ control in strike action.

This oddity gets worse. Way worse. Because just as unions disown any role in the collective decision-making of their members, so too does the company management of Eskom have zero authority and influence on the decision-making process of its employees. Yet they are the employer. The employer through which every employee secures rights to union membership.

But today, neither the unions nor the company governs the workers. The workers now govern themselves. Or so it seems, from what the Eskom strike taught us.

Eskom has no managerial authority over, and is deeply distrusted by its own employees. The unions too are not responsible for the actions of their Eskom members. We live in a land where leaders of both the company and the unions have relinquished their rights to either manage their employees or lead and govern their union members.

And we citizens are the victims of their ineptitude and are seemingly powerless to change that.

Again, it gets worse. Think about our history and where we are now. This is the heartland of the much-vaunted negotiated resolution to the apartheid crime against humanity, to usher in our founding 1994 democratic election.

This the land in which the Nedlac Act was the first law passed by the newly born democratic Parliament.

This is the land where the sitting president of the country and his economic cluster ministers repeat ad nauseam the mantra of social compacts between business and labour and government and communities as the silver bullet to SA’s economic and social crises. The president even gives himself 100-day timelines to get these social compacts done. Remember that?

This is that land. The same land where today, 28 years after the dawn of democracy, our power generation and distribution stakeholders can collapse the country into darkness and no one takes responsibility, no one takes accountability, and everyone simply blames the voiceless workers.

Everything we hear from our stakeholder leaders is fantasy talk. It’s just leadership sweet-talking to each other to garner votes from their insider leadership club.

Anyone who didn’t believe that previously, should now no longer be left with any doubt. Not after every leader disowned responsibility for the strike action that drove the country into Stage 6 load shedding. 

Killing jobs and livelihoods before the altar of a so-called unplanned strike. It’s way easier for leaders to just blame the workers who keep our stations delivering power on trickle feed.

The Eskom strike is the biggest demonstration of all-round failure of leadership. It has little to do with the actions of workers. They are the victims, too. The real architect of the crisis is without doubt this monumental leadership failure. The leadership of the unions, the company and the government. All of them failed us.

Every South African with any sense now knows unambiguously that we are indeed being misled. Every South African now knows not to have any faith in these leaders and their social compact that is being marketed by our president.

Who would trust them with a social compact to alter fundamentally the macroeconomic drivers of our country, when they can’t even hold each other to account for keeping the lights on? Who would trust them when they can’t even own the actions of their own managers and workers that labour tirelessly to keep a few lights on?

Think about it again. We have this painful, crumbling Eskom power regime. It’s killing our economy and our people. It’s been like that for years and it’s getting worse with every passing day. The future is literally as black as night.

Eskom has in excess of 42,000 employees. These employees are organised into three primary unions, which all have seats at the Eskom Central Bargaining Forum (CBF). This is the forum to negotiate wages and conditions of employment and consult on company policy and strategy.

But it is also the forum through which the stakeholders can input on the design and implementation of any broader social compacting issue around power supply to our power-starved country. They have been negotiating in that forum for decades. And yet they look like kids fighting over candy and blaming each other in the midst of their scrap for a zero-sum game. 

None with the leadership ability to rise above their sectoral interest to frame their interest within the context of the nation that feeds them all. None with the capacity and vision and foresight to frame a future not just for themselves, but for the starving, powerless citizenry. 

The fact is the collective bargaining CBF and its sister policy forums are a sham of what they are meant to be. They are forums for stripping down, in a dog-eat-dog fashion, the last economic foundations of whatever is left of the rotting carcass of Eskom. They are not forums for imagining a vision for value creation, value add and growth of the country. No, not at all.

In these hallowed houses, the stakeholder leaders grandstand, positioning themselves behind their own secular interests in order to threaten and demand and disown and denigrate each other in an orgy of leadership degeneration. It’s not nice.

The Eskom engagement platforms are a veritable spectacle of blame games where no one takes accountability for anything. Nothing at all. Not even the basics of whom we are here to serve (as in the country), apart from ourselves. Let alone how to serve with humility, what the roadmap of service is, where we fit in on that roadmap, how we account for our service to each other and to the nation at large. Nothing. None of this is agreed. It’s a case of dog eat dog in a nightmare spectacle of the blind leading the blind.

The end result, as we all saw, is that we literally have to hear such childlike trivia as how one party blames the other for “walking out” of negotiations and how this was the cause for members “being provoked” into days of unlawful strike action which no one sanctioned, and no one can control or take responsibility for.

Not the employer. Nor the union. Nor the state as shareholder. Nor the president. No one. Not a soul. It’s really scary. The country is plunged into pain and no one takes responsibility.

And yet, each of them and all of them together will tomorrow proclaim the virtues of a social compact to make a “better life for all”. It’s a lie. We see it clearly now. Unambiguously so, in the rolling levels of load shedding to strangle the very life out of the dreams of every child in school, every wannabe entrepreneur in a fledgling enterprise, every street in every city or village or farm. Blacking out your dreams and hopes.

That’s the social compact in action. 

It’s called load shedding for the 60 million citizens as a gift from the stakeholder leaders of 40,000 Eskom workers. And as this repeat crisis bites, every leader is silent on solutions. Nedlac is silent. The unions and their federations are silent. Corporates and their lobbies are silent. And the Cabinet and president are locked into a deathly silence too.

All they all can do is moan and bemoan and blame the other for the trust deficit. Try some late-night crisis talks to troubleshoot a problem. Tell us between breaths that they are working to overcome “the challenges”. Thank you. We are grateful. Grateful for nothing.

The hard truth is that we are leaderless across the board of our glorified stakeholders in government, business and labour. The Eskom strike shows us the underbelly of the social compact dribble. In reality we are on autopilot as we spiral deeper into the poverty abyss.

Don’t believe a word you hear from our leaders. We are ruled by a cabal of the insider club who themselves are so engaged in the feeding frenzy that they do not have the time, let alone the will, to stand up and be counted behind a raft of visionary policy choices that hurt some to save countless others.

Not one among them has the political will to popularise and then enforce that choice, to demand accountability from us all, let alone to apply their minds to the practical task of resolutely implementing those hard policy decisions that hold the only hope of tilting us towards a brighter future.

It won’t come soon. It’s perhaps more than a decade away. We will bumble along, us Mzansis. We will spiral onwards and downwards on the southern tip. Free-falling through the last of the ANC as the governing party in government, and onwards to some homegrown, multiparty coalition government of sorts. That too won’t save us. 

Still we will spiral down, following our cousins across the continent through all sorts of regimes on our path to the certain quasi-autocracy that will follow. That’s how we will roll.

Fasten your seat belts. Things can only get worse from here. DM


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All Comments 13

  • Cadre deployment under the guise of disastrous BBEEE policy informed by failed communist/socialist ideology is the root cause.
    Expecting the ANC to admit this and pivot to accepting merit based colour blind appointments is a dream. We have some of the most competent business leaders in the world but they are shunned because they are not black !! How dumb is that!!

  • Aint that the truth.

    Another way to tell this same story is to explain that since domestic use of the grid lies at only around 17 percent (i was led to believe ?) I imagine that DeRuiter has opted to using the tactical bargaining chip left against the absolute pervasive corruption throughout the leadership structures. That chip is to make the rest of society rise up in anger. Nothing makes people move like personal dissatisfaction or in this case, the cold discomfort of stage 6 blackouts. In this way, the real issues are being exposed as the middle class are demanding answers. A telling pointer is to look at who and how the eskom head is being blamed. Of course the leaders every one of them now have to keep their heads down as things begin to get exposed. To have an uprising, one needs many people to get angry. And if that is what it takes, then it would seem that DeRuiter has done well. Lets hope the chaos and exposure leads to change.

  • Oh the poor workers.. the poor overpaid workers.. the poor extremely bloated workforce… the poor voiceless workers whose voice is drowning this country.
    One of the neverending litany of problems facing this country is the complete lack of personal responsibility by anyone – the inevitable result of socialism/communism.

  • Depressing indeed.
    Not much more to add really.
    I’m fresh out of optimism.
    Alas, our democracy has failed us… one man – one vote has kept the ANC in power for over a generation.
    What a tragedy.

  • Not sure if you tried to make a case for the privitisation of everything, but this an extremely strong case for just that, unless your willing to sink into the abyss with the SOEs. And the “workers” should shoulder their fair share of the blame; as responsible as those in “leadership” are for this mess, it’s just disingenuous to divorce the workers from responsibility for the outcomes of their actions.

  • Gee, depressing, much?? I do hope SOME salvation in the form of big power users getting their own generation capacity comes through!

  • Does the failure of Eskom, and indeed that of the ANC and by extension the failed state of the South African society at large not stem from the fact that the majority of us ordinary South Africans fail to act in a manner that is required by a modern western democracy which attempts to “tilt(ing) us towards a brighter future.”? Are we not leaderless because we surrender power to individuals incapable of leadership? We fail daily to hold leaderless leaders to account. In fact, there are voices calling for failed leadership to return to the likes of Eskom. There are raising voices calling for the heads of those trying their level best to cut the rot.

    Where you blame leaders for their vaults, I blame the populace for their shortcomings with their role as thinking, responsible citizens.

  • The writer shows a little too much sympathy for the striking workers. Simple economics is at play here. The latest wage agreement (for one year only @7%) is going to cost at least another R1 billion. Let that sink in R1 billion. That is an average of R22 727.27 (if my trusty little calculator handled the maths correctly).

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