The battle lines are drawn and President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared war against the poor with his plan to unbundle Eskom, according to trade unions representing workers at the state-owned enterprise (SOE).
The unions said they were ready to mobilise a fight against what one called “privatisation by the back door”.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) and its umbrella federation, the SA Federation of Trade Unions, have all vehemently rejected any part of Eskom being privatised.
They said this would be a “declaration of war” against the poor by the Ramaphosa government.
Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday night, said Eskom would be broken up into generation, transmission and distribution units falling under Eskom Holdings.
NUM general secretary David Sipunzi said it would result in massive job losses and retrenchments.
“NUM members and other workers at Eskom are totally opposed to the privatisation of the utility to enrich the few elites,” he said, vowing to “fight tooth and nail” against it.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said his union was already preparing to do battle with the state in “defence of state-owned enterprises and Eskom in particular”.
He said Ramaphosa had “confirmed our worst fears, which is that the ANC government has decided to privatise SOEs”.
“This is nothing more than privatisation through the back door and we reject it. The battle lines have been drawn, the state has declared war on the working class. We will mobilise all communities to join us to defend jobs.”
Ramaphosa also announced the non-core assets of Eskom would be sold.
A similar action by the government to privatise Transnet’s non-core assets saw tens of thousands of workers lose their jobs in the early 1990s.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said Ramaphosa’s Sona reflected his concern about appeasing wealthy investors and credit rating agencies, rather than the poor majority.
“The speech’s most striking feature was the total gulf between the president’s optimistic reports and expectations of economic growth and job creation and the realities of economic stagnation, rising unemployment, degrading levels of poverty and increasing levels of inequality.”
Ramaphosa did not acknowledge that SA had the sixth-highest level of unemployment in the world, with the rate of job losses rising steeply.
Between 2008 and 2017, jobs were lost at a rate of about 350 000 a year; in 2018 a million were lost.
The unions said the best way to cut Eskom’s costs was to cancel the 27 contracts Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe signed with independent power producers (IPP). They said the IPPs were costly for Eskom at R93 million a day.
Jim said about 100 000 jobs would be lost in Mpumalanga when coal-fired power stations closed. “There is no plan to upskill workers and absorb them into the IPP sector. This will deepen unemployment.”