Union says nationwide strike underway as protest against Eskom proposal gains momentum

A NATIONWIDE strike by South Africa’s largest labour organisation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had begun on Wednesday that included employees of Eskom, the state-owned power utility.

“The national shutdown is under way,” COSATU spokesman Sizwe Pamla told Bloomberg News. “Workers from all sectors of the economy in the private sector and public service are on board and we will be marching to the legislature and the Chamber of Mines.”

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), an affiliate of the COSATU that represents workers from the mining, energy and construction industries, is expecting more than 100,000 people to take part in the strikes, said NUM spokesman Luphert Chilwane.

“I can tell you that the Eskom workers are very angry, so we are expecting thousands of them to take part in the strike,” said Chilwane. “Our expectations is that our members will come out in numbers because the NUM is the union most affected by the job losses.”

South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said at his State of the Nation Address on February 7 that he planned to divide Eskom into three separate entities – generation, transmission and distribution – in an effort to increase transparency and raise funds.

Unions, however, have objected to the proposal saying it was the first step on the road to massive job losses.

The strike comes as Eskom extends load-shedding to 3,000MW for most of today having earlier in the week cut 4,000MW to consumers and businesses. Eskom is contending with debt totalling R419bn some of which it cannot service.

It utility said on February 11 that it would initiative an audit to better understand why units in its existing power fleet were tripping as well as to gauge the extent of design faults at its new build programme which is supposed to deliver 9,000MW to the national grid.