The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has called for power utility Eskom to be held accountable for decades of mismanaged funds and consequential economic inequality, they said in a scathing statement released on Sunday.
Saftu said the most recent blow to the country’s power supply, in addition to load shedding threatening to hit in winter and continue into September, is “the firm’s use of a pandemic-induced economic catastrophe as an excuse to increase tariffs more than three times the the current 3.1% inflation rate”.
It said the power utility’s recent tariff increase also introduces block tariffs, which means that “rich, hedonistic households pay less while poor and working people pay much more”.
They added that the increased basic constant connection rate will “disincentivise the society’s shift to solar energy.”
“This is all being done with the ludicrous argument of following cost-reflective policies so as to lower economic inefficiencies – yet our society and environment are screaming out for relief from this ultra-neoliberal logic.”
Renewables in trouble
Proposed new coal-fired power plant, offshore oil and has being drilled by international firms, onshore fracking and nuclear generation will “continue to push dubious deals”, at the expense of the poor and the environment, Saftu warned.
They are urging for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and that renewable energy generation must be independent, and not powered by Eskom’s “own renewables skills base.”
They said that despite solar power only being afforded to those who have enough money to pay hefty instalment fees, it helped avoid load shedding and helped the environment.
De Ruyter must go
Eskom CEO André De Ruyter was not spared criticism by Saftu.
They slammed his era at the utility as showing a “distinct lack of concern for poor and working-class South Africans’ interests, for struggling municipalities, and for the climate.”
They said he was entertaining new nuclear energy purchases much like former US president Donald Trump’s regime.
They added that De Ruyter used lockdown to begin “mass load reduction disconnections”, in areas which mainly low-income households reside.
According to Saftu, since 2007, poor people have been made to pay 500% more for electricity.
“Eskom has taken to mass disconnections reminiscent of apartheid-era collective punishment.”
Mineral Resources and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe was also criticised for “various serious corruption allegations against him,” labelling him the “driving force” behind Eskom’s push to continue to run Koeberg nuclear power station for “another two decades beyond its natural life span.”
“South Africa remains the country with the worst inequality in the world; De Ruter obviously feels no guilt about repeatedly contributing to this.”
They are calling for his replacement, a “haircut” for Eskom’s creditors to jointly assume responsibility “for their corrupt loans”, and for the remaining “corrupt crew” and suppliers to be prosecuted.
They concluded by stating that De Ruyter’s actions are “a continuation of the power company’s earlier corruption, when it was born into a crime against humanity that was apartheid – a system that also turned on the power for corporations and rich people and turned it off for black South Africans.”
Compiled by Nica Richards.