The fight to defend public energy in South Africa has grown more intense in recent weeks. The country has been hit by years of power cuts (“load shedding”) that is, TUED and its allies have argued, the direct result of years of political attacks on the public utility known as Eskom.
In a major statement on July 26th, President Ramaphosa announced that the private sector was ready to address the country’s growing energy crisis, and the government intended to remove “red tape” in order to invite more investment from so-called independent power producers (or IPPs). South African Broadcasting Corporation footage of Ramaphosa’s statement is here. It includes a response from TUED’s Sean Sweeney towards the end of the broadcast that warned against expecting private companies to come to the rescue.
The day after Ramaphosa’s statement, unions and allies in the social movements came together in Johannesburg to form a United Front to Address Loadshedding and resolved to fight for an alternative “public pathway” approach to energy transition (see below). The meeting was organised by the Alternative Information and Development Center and TUED.
Endorsing the United Front are key unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM); the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the South African Trade and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU).
See: Full statement and signatories to the United Front initiative (a segment of which is included below). A similar statement was released by NUMSA . Please send messages of support for the United Front to Lala Peñaranda, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday, July 27th, 2022, representatives of unions and social movements met in Johannesburg to discuss the country’s energy crisis. The representatives agreed to form a united front to resist privatisation of the power sector and to propose alternative ways to address both the immediate crisis and the longer-term challenges posed by the decarbonisation of South Africa’s energy system. What follows is a work-in-progress statement that captures the discussion and conclusions reached at the end of the meeting:
We acknowledge the multiple economic and social problems associated with load-shedding (particularly for the working class and poor communities in both rural and urban areas). We agree with President Ramaphosa when he says government must take bold measures to address load-shedding as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. We agree that load-shedding is a national crisis that requires decisive action on the part of the government.
However, we believe that the proposals aimed at addressing load-shedding that have been put forward by government ministries, the private sector, consultancies and think tanks are unrealistic and are extremely unlikely to succeed. These proposals reflect the interests of the Independent Power Producer (IPPs) and their desire to secure subsidies as a means of securing guaranteed returns on investments and to grow their businesses at the expense of Eskom. Their needs also reflect the privatisation designs of the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.
Equally important, the actions proposed by the government will impede South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon energy system and expose the country to a state of energy dependency. South Africa has no wind industry and its solar industry is negligible. There is currently no means to produce lithium-ion batteries. South Africa will surrender energy decision-making to multinational companies that produce these technologies.
We believe that it is foolish to entertain the idea that the private sector and market liberalisation can provide a workable alternative to load-shedding. The solution to load shedding and the achievement of a just energy transition in the coming decades depends on a well-resourced national public utility.