Electricity pylons at an Eskom coal-burning power station near Sasolburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Electricity pylons at an Eskom coal-burning power station near Sasolburg. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

This week 2,000 people learned that their jobs are on the line, partly because Eskom electricity tariffs are so high that ArcelorMittal cannot afford to employ them. We have even had trade union leaders objecting to Eskom tariff increases because high electricity costs have already put half the foundries in the country out of business, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Even more serious is what has happened in the mining industry. We have plenty of gold but most of it is in deep mines where it is no longer safe to work because the electricity supply cannot be guaranteed. In addition, the geothermal heat in deep mines means they need lots of electricity to power ventilating and cooling systems, and this electricity is no longer affordable. So the gold stays in the ground, economic growth suffers and many thousands of people lose their jobs.

We know that Eskom is overstaffed (possibly by as much as 60%) but the government says there will be no job cuts at Eskom. Nobody has explained why the surplus of well-paid jobs at Eskom is more important to maintain than all the thousands of jobs that are being lost in other sectors of the economy.

If Eskom sheds its excess staff, it might even be able to reduce tariffs and we might get some gold mines and foundries back into production and paying taxes. Isn’t that what the country desperately needs? What is the logic of saving one unnecessary job in Eskom at the cost of two in the mines? And why can’t the government and the trade unions understand this?

Geoff Jacobs
President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry