“We commend our structures and members for waging a popular and relentless campaign against Eskom’s third Multi-Year Price Determination (MYPD3),” said Numsa’s March Centra Committee (CC).
This was after the news that the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) had granted Eskom a 8% increase over five years instead of its hoped for 16%.
“This 8% may have been (Eskom’s) target even at the beginning,” said Western Cape delegates at the CC. “But if we did not come out (at the hearings and in pickets), it would have been 16%!”
The pickets across the country were the parts visible to the public. But they hide the extensive preparation that Numsa put into the two-month campaign that is set to continue later this year when municipalities ask for their increases.
As Ekurhuleni delegates said in the Central Committee, “this campaign was not about numbers”. They thanked the “technocrats for a job well done – it was the content of the submissions (at the public hearings) that made the difference.”
When Eskom first released its proposal to the public in mid-October 2012 to double its electricity tariffs over the next five years, Numsa’s education and research departments were already hatching plans to respond to its document.
A Numsa electricity conference was called at the end of November 2012. Representatives of Eskom, Nersa and the Energy Intensive Users Group as well as independent consultants on energy addressed Numsa’s energy research and development group and other Numsa representatives.
Delegates heard how Eskom sets the price of electricity and the laws that govern this. Nersa spoke of its role in regulating Eskom’s tariff increases. Others gave insight into the effects of Eskom’s proposed tariff increases on industry and jobs, especially big energy users like smelters. Eskom’s inefficiencies in various areas were also analysed. Delegates were told of how members of the public could have their say on Eskom’s request at Nersa public hearings beginning in January 2013.
Numsa’s own research department reported on the results of a snap survey of Numsa organised companies that consume a lot of electricity and how the proposed huge tariff hike would impact negatively on jobs and in some cases result in the shutting down of companies.
The 3-day workshop accepted that some of the costs of Eskom’s capacity expansion programme would have to be funded by users but that “citizens, the poor in particular and local industry cannot be punished with outrageous hikes to the point of deepening unemployment, poverty and inequality as a result of inaction or wrong policy choices by political elites.”
Numsa was determined to present its case across the country in public hearings and to picket outside these hearings joining with other like-minded groupings.
It was adamant that it must demand the following from Nersa:
• an inflation-linked increase only that be given over three years and not five years
• that during the next three years a new model be developed on how electricity pricing would be calculated.
In addition Nersa must probe whether Eskom was spending its money prudently and whether it was justified for Eskom to make R46 billion profit over three years for its shareholder, our government. “We find it baffling that our government should earn a return that is funded by exorbitant prices charged on its citizens,” the meeting said.
Public hearings and pickets
When the Nersa public hearings kicked off early in January 2013, Numsa got its campaigning machinery into gear. Presentations were put together giving Numsa’s key arguments but also adapting them for the different cities and towns where the hearings took place.
In Durban the emphasis was on the negative impact on smelters and the likelihood of factory closures and job losses.
In Kimberley it was the already damaging effect of further electricity price hikes where poor households had already seen their electricity prices almost double in the years 2005-2011. High electricity prices would obviously affect other costs especially food and the poor would again suffer more.
In Gauteng Numsa predicted that 33% of manufacturing companies might have to close after electricity costs had already increased by more than 60% in the five years from 2005.
Shop stewards in locals and regions rallied around to join with Cosatu and other affiliates and organisations to support the campaign. In Port Elizabeth, frustration that the venue for the public hearing was held in a hotel and not a venue closer to the people meant a 2-week delay in the presentation to the public hearing. (see page ?? for the story)
In Gauteng, the picket nearly didn’t happen as Gallagher Estate and Numsa’s lawyers battled out a compromise on just where the picket could take place. But it did and it saw hundreds of Numsa and Cosatu members, supported by civil society groups, picket outside the Gallagher conference centre, where the Nersa hearings were being held, to protest against Eskom’s proposed tariffs hikes.
Many civil society organizations joined NUMSA in numbers to echo our concerns. One such group was a group of elderly mothers from Ivory Park who spent the two days on the picketing lines with Numsa members. “One of them told us that together we can stop this Eskom madness”, says Numsa’s Eskom sector coordinator, Stephen Nhlapo.
Support from others
Numsa also met with business leaders of key Numsa sectors and other Cosatu affiliates involved in manufacturing. Parties agreed with auto employer representative, Nico Vermeulen, when he said that “South Africa is in the process of committing economic suicide, and the impact on our economy is extremely negative” he said.
The National Office Bearers, some Eskom shop stewards as well as other key Numsa leaders also briefed key leaders of the ANC including secretary general, Gwede Mantashe on how Numsa viewed the problem where they received a sympathetic hearing.
“When comrades explained to Mantashe the issue of the buy-backs that Eskom has imposed, Mantashe described the process as ‘hidden load-shedding put on the back of workers’,” says Numsa education head, Dinga Sikwebu.
At the night vigil held in the Tshwane Methodist Church, 24 hours before Nersa’s final announcement, veteran Methodist minister, Paul Verryn, reflected on how important it was for ordinary people to make their voices heard. (see page ?? for the full story)