Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said on Friday President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of plans to split state power firm Eskom into three entities confirmed its fears that the government wanted to privatise the cash-strapped utility, a move that would threaten jobs.

In his State of the Nation Address to Parliament on Thursday evening, Ramaphosa said Eskom would be divided into Generation, Transmission and Distribution entities as part of a new business model to help turn it around.

He acknowledged Eskom was in crisis and posed a significant risk to the South African economy, requiring bold decisions that would not affect the country's sovereign credit rating. Ramaphosa also said Eskom would need more revenue through an affordable tariff increase.

On Friday Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim said the plans to break up Eskom and sell "non-core assets" of state-owned enterprises in general were "nothing more than privatisation through the back door" which the union would fight.

"Only an Eskom which is completely owned and controlled by the state is the best guarantee for cheap electricity," Jim said. "History has shown us that once the private sector is allowed to step in, prices increase and massive job shedding is inevitable."

"It is clear that the working class is in for more suffering because the president is also calling for a tariff increase at Eskom," he added.

Jim said Numsa would mobilise all communities to join it in defending jobs and Eskom. 

"The battle lines have been drawn. The state has officially declared war on the working class," he said.

African News Agency/ANA