Picture: Mark Wessels/SAPA

Johannesburg - Trade unions have threatened to embark on a strike should Eskom be broken up into three separate companies dealing with energy generation, transmission and distribution.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said they were conducting a lunchtime picket at Eskom’s headquarters to protest against looming retrenchments at the state-owned entity and to reject independent power producers (IPP).

Their stance comes as Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan was quoted in Business Day as saying a decision on unbundling Eskom was needed in the next month.

“We are going to have that debate soon and move beyond if we are to have Eskom as a credible entity, both financially and operationally, in a month’s time,” Gordhan said.

The paper also reported that a task team appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to share its recommendations with the Cabinet at its lekgotla this week.

The task team has apparently recommended unbundling Eskom into three companies, as well as a substantial debt bailout from the government.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s energy portfolio manager, Ronald Chauke, said the proposed unbundling was a move in the right direction.

“The World Bank said Eskom is too big to save. By breaking it down, you help Eskom become a better entity,” Chauke said.

“From a management point of view and industry performance point of view, it is a critical move. That will help attract us investment and competition in the electricity generation space.”

The DA’s Natasha Mazzone said her party had last October announced plans to introduce a private member’s bill in Parliament that was aimed at dismantling Eskom’s monopoly.

“We feel the task team has taken into consideration the DA’s proposals. We have asked for this for many years. The DA is one step ahead,” she said.

The DA’s Independent System and Market Operator Bill proposes splitting Eskom into two companies that focus on power production and distribution.

Mazzone added that her party was always willing to work with the government to ensure that Eskom produced sustainable energy.

But the trade unions described the unbundling of Eskom as a recipe for privatisation and retrenchments.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said that Eskom executives and the ANC-led government had failed to turn around the state-owned entity after looting it and bringing it to the brink of collapse.

“They have now identified privatisation as a way of covering up their ineptitude and corruption.”

He charged that thousands of workers would be retrenched in the name of “efficiency’” so that the politically connected elite of the ANC could continue to enrich themselves.

NUM’s Highveld region said there was nothing new about Ramaphosa’s dawn, and that its sole intention was to privatise.

“This unbundling is nothing but privatisation. This decision will lead to massive retrenchments at Eskom,” regional deputy chairperson Bizzah Malekutu waga Motubatse said.

Waga Motubase said their special regional council had resolved to march to ANC headquarters and also embark on a strike in the week of the general elections.

“The council will wait for the president to communicate a date for the elections; after his announcement we will announce our dates for the national strike.”

Political Bureau