A sea of red T-shirts was visible in Joburg's city centre as thousands of workers took part in Cosatu's mass action protest against corruption and state capture. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Johannesburg - The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Monday that it was looking ahead to the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) with some trepidation even though it hoped that finance minister Malusi Gigaba would rise to the occasion.

Gigaba will deliver his inaugural MTBPS on Wednesday, setting out the fiscal policy objectives and government spending priorities over the three-year expenditure cycle. 

Gigaba has an unenviable task of closing government debt, consolidating fiscal policy, ensuring adherence of austerity measures while bankrolling critical government programmes like higher education, social welfare, and broke state-owned enterprises (SOEs), all amid bleak economic growth forecasts.

In a statement, Cosatu said this policy statement comes at a time when the economy has barely recovered from the technical recession and is yet to pull through towards a firm growth trajectory.

The labour union federation highlighted that South Africa was struggling with the real unemployment rate of 38 percent, with close to 10 million people struggling to get jobs and more than half a million jobs lost in two years, and 17 million people on welfare.

Cosatu said things were made worse by the dramatic Cabinet reshuffles in March and October that saw ministers in key portfolios fired, and two sovereign rating agencies downgrading South Africa to junk status.  

"It is disquieting that the fifth administration has been presiding over economic contraction and job losses over an extended period ;and we hope that the mini budget statement can come up with policy proposals to arrest this downward spiral," Cosatu said

"The medium-term repayment of the R2.2 trillion worth of the total public debt, some of which is denominated in US Dollars or other foreign currencies, has the potential to actually undermine our national self-determination and threaten the course of the national democratic revolution."  

"This heavy debt burden can only balloon even more as long as the governance of most of the SOEs continues to deteriorate, as we now regularly read disturbing reports of massive looting that is taking place in the SOEs linked to the Guptas and others."

Last month, the federation took to the streets in a national strike against corruption and state capture. 

Cosatu also said it wants Eskom's status as a natural monopolist in the electricity supply market in South Africa to be protected and defended. 

"Energy is a public good and must remain state owned otherwise we will continue to pay high tariffs, which are detrimental to job creation and industrial development," Cosatu said in a statement.

"Independent Power Producers must be systematically introduced and renewable energy must be sold at 31 cents kWh instead of the proposed 67 cents. "

It added in reference to plans to procure new nuclear plants: "The minister needs to make it clear that he is opposed to the nuclear deal because the country cannot afford it at the moment."