Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SOWETAN
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SOWETAN

The jobs lost due to the unbundling of Eskom will be nothing compared to the jobs bloodbath that will result from an economy failing due to continued load-shedding, DA leader Mmusi Maimane warned on Thursday.

Trade unions have threatened to strike in protest at the unbundling of the utility into three entities — generation, transmission and distribution — as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his state of the nation address last week. Finance minister Tito Mboweni is expected to announce measures to financially assist Eskom, which has debt of R419bn, in next week’s budget.

“Eskom is a crisis that could plunge our nation into catastrophe. It is now time for the president to find the political will, stand up to his allies, and do what is best for SA,” Maimane said.  “We have to take the fight ... to labour. We cannot be held for ransom by unions which insist they will go on strike should there be any move to privatise Eskom. We have to take tough decisions.”

Maimane addressed the media on the steps of the National Assembly flanked by DA public enterprises spokesperson Natasha Mazzone and DA Western Cape premier candidate Alan Winde. The briefing came ahead of Ramaphosa’s response to the parliamentary debate on his address, which Maimane said would be overshadowed by the current energy crisis resulting in rolling power cuts across the country over the past week.

“The doors to hospitals, businesses, and key industries have been shut due to rolling power cuts by Eskom. The situation is dire, and there is no time for complacency. Tinkering at the edges won’t solve the underlying causes. We require complete overhaul and reform,” Maimane said.

He then referred to estimates that the power cuts cost the economy nearly R1bn every day.

Maimane called on the government to reject pressure from the ANC’s union allies opposing the introduction of independent power producers (IPPs), which he said must be allowed to sell power to the grid immediately. This would introduce competition into the energy sector.

As short-term measures, the DA believes that Eskom should immediately freeze the build on the last two outstanding units at Kusile, and bring on more IPPs to provide power. Eskom should be allowed to procure coal from any source and its engineering and maintenance employees should be reaffirmed as an “essential service” that cannot enter into strike action, said Maimane.

All Eskom’s diesel contracts should be reviewed to ensure that the cheapest diesel was sourced and the state-owned PetroSA should be instructed to supply Eskom with diesel at tax-free, cost prices to avert a crisis in the short term.

Maimane stressed the need for partnerships with big energy users, such as aluminium smelters to reduce their demand and use the electricity freed up to stabilise other sectors.

Over the medium term, Maimane said Eskom’s generation entities should be privatised with the transmission/distribution entity managing the grid as an independent operator, sourcing power from IPPs and Eskom generation.

Eskom executive salaries need to be drastically restructured, he said, and the numbers of middle managers cut; municipalities instructed to start a “name and shame” campaign for non-payers of electricity; and smart meters installed for municipalities to force them to collect revenue timeously.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za