Environmental activists stormed Eskom’s headquarters on Tuesday morning, demanding a shift away from coal-powered energy.
The activists, from NGOs including groundWork, Earthlife Africa (Johannesburg) and Greenpeace, staged a series of protests at Eskom’s Megawatt Park.
At about 8am, the protesters moved from their meeting place near Megawatt Park and passed through security with ease.
Four people climbed on to the roof in front of the entrance and dropped a banner which read “Eskom, under new management”.
The climbers were fully kitted out in climbing gear and scaled the steel structure in front of the entrance within minutes.
They propped ladders up against the building to get on to a first-floor roof before shimmying up the poles with ropes and harnesses. They then unravelled the sign, which sported the Eskom symbol as well as the symbols of the NGOs.
“We are here today because Eskom has clearly failed the people of South Africa, and we are united in calling for a fundamental shift away from coal by Eskom,” said groundWork’s director, Bobby Peek.
In the parking lot next to the entrance, a desk was bolted to the concrete floor using a high-pressure nail gun.
Three people then chained themselves to the desk (from) around their waists and put name cards on the desk. They “appointed” Peek as the new Eskom CEO, Makoma Lekalakala as the new Eskom stakeholder engagement director and Melita Steele as the new Eskom spokeswoman.
“According to the new management team, they are prepared to end their protest once they are invited into Megawatt Park to formally take over as Eskom’s official new management,” said a joint press release by the protesters.
Meanwhile, three more protesters blocked doors at the entrance holding signs which read “stop coal” and “renewable energy now”.
The protest comes in the wake of Eskom’s proposed price structure for the coming years, which was announced on Monday. Should Eskom’s prices be implemented, the cost of electricity could double in the next five years.
“A peaceful protest is fine but safety is always a concern,” said Eskom spokeswoman, Hilary Joffe.
She said the steel poles the climbers had scaled were not designed to support people.
The head of finance for Eskom, Paul O’Flaherty, came out and spoke to Lekalakala, Peek and Steele. Both sides debated their points, with the NGOs arguing that Eskom relies too heavily on coal-powered stations, which have detrimental health impacts. They also said Eskom’s prices would prejudice the poor and that the parastatal’s water usage for cooling the coal-powered stations could push the country to “the brink of a water crisis”.
O’Flaherty said the parastatal had been “very transparent” in its costs and plans and asked the protesters to write a formal plan to Eskom with regard to renewable energy.
Employees could be seen watching the protest from their office windows and taking pictures with their cellphones.
“Move away from the windows and go back to your workstations,” blared a loudspeaker.
When the “new management” team asked to be appointed, O’Flaherty said they would have to ask the Department of Public Enterprises.