Last week was a long one for the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), which had to defend South Africa’s enthusiasm for chaotic and often deadly industrial action in every press conference that took place in China during the South African business expos in several cities.
The Chinese press – obviously horrified by last year’s rash of violent, wildcat strikes in the platinum belt that claimed more than 50 lives and drained billions of rand from the economy – flooded Minister Rob Davies and his deputy, Elizabeth Thabethe, with questions on labour laws.
The pair tried to explain the difference between protected and unprotected labour strikes to the press. But it seemed that the media there had already made up its mind that the strikes posed a threat to Chinese investments as they kept making reference to “endless strikes”.
They claimed that some investors had withdrawn their investments.
China is used to cheap labour, without much labour law to protect workers and thus their concerns did not come as a surprise.
Davies, inspired by President Jacob Zuma’s preference for a positive spin on reality, told journalists that this year, the country had had only protected strikes in the automotive and gold mining sectors.
When the Chinese media questioned if the protected strikes were not as much of a detriment to their country’s investments as the unprotected ones, Davies said there was no long-term damage to the economy and thus none to the Chinese investments.
“We are a country that recognises the right of workers to withdraw their labour. This year we haven’t seen any illegal process. Last year we saw one in Marikana. But we’ve been working to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of that,” he said.
Davies’ desire to put government gloss on what naturally seems alarming to outside observers conveniently omitted to mention the violent, unprotected strikes in the Cape winelands, illegal stoppages at Lonmin and other chrome mines and, of course, did not mention the prolonged unprotected stoppages that have hugely delayed the Medupi power station project.
Just spread a little bit of bulldust with the sunshine and the foreigners will never know the difference, and perhaps, neither will the voters.
Tristen Taylor, a project co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa, and Rico Europidou, a groundWork environmental campaigner, have accused the World Bank of abandoning “the people of the Waterberg district” in Limpopo. Yesterday in a media release, they reported that in 2010 the bank had lent $3.7 billion (R37bn) to the state power monopoly, Eskom, to build the Medupi power station.
Some of the material conditions under which the loan was granted were that Medupi, the much delayed coal-fired project, would install “flue-gas desulfurisation (FGD)” technology, which is a technology used to remove sulphur dioxide from the exhaust gases of fossil-fuel-fired power plants – and that Eskom would meet South Africa’s air quality emission standards and legislation.
“It would be a cleaner, super-critical, coal-fired power station, different from Eskom’s dirty plants in the Witbank region.”
However, the two clean environment campaigners said over the past three months “and with approval from the World Bank, Eskom has been seeking to exempt itself for most of its fleet of coal-fired power stations from South African air quality regulations and is delaying FGD at Medupi for several years”.
The overall effect of Eskom’s machinations was that Medupi would be found to be outside the limits “in terms of the amounts of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel… and hydrocarbons that can be emitted”.
They say that Eskom says obeying environmental regulations would be too costly. This is a toxic mix which will be borne by the local communities, agriculture and businesses in the Lephalale district.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Londiwe Buthelezi and Donwald Pressly.