Angry NUM members vow to boo Cyril over Eskom woes

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members, unhappy with Eskom’s latest wage offer and its independent power producers (IPPs) programme, have threatened to boo President Cyril Ramaphosa when he addresses the union’s conference in Boksburg on Friday.

Ramaphosa, the founding general secretary of the NUM, was due to address the opening of the union’s elective conference on Wednesday. But this was postponed because of “unforeseen circumstances”, NUM president Piet Matosa said on Thursday.

But the Mail & Guardian has learned that the delaying of his address came after NUM’s national Eskom shop stewards issued a warning to union general secretary David Sipunzi at a gathering in Midrand last month.

“They told the GS [general secretary] they will boo Cyril [Ramaphosa] when he addresses the NUM national conference. The GS begged the members not to do that and to give the NEC [the union’s national executive committee] an opportunity to address the issue of IPPs and Eskom wages,” said a member of the NUM shop stewards council anonymously this week. This was confirmed by a second member of the council.

NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu this week said the anger stems from the government’s decision to push ahead with its IPP programme — which will introduce new sources of sustainable power from private entities — even though a report by auditing firm KPMG estimated that 92 000 jobs in Eskom and among its contractors would be lost if renewable energy is introduced to the mix.

“In Witbank alone, up to 40 000 jobs are at risk,” Mammburu said.

NUM members also intended to voice their anger at Energy Minister Jeff Radebe, who was also meant to address the conference but instead travelled to Austria this week.

“Anything can happen tomorrow [Friday] when the president speaks, but the person they have really been waiting for was Jeff Radebe. Members are not happy that he is out of the country,” the shop steward told the M&G.

The NUM went on strike at Eskom last week after the government failed to offer employees an increase in wages. During a picket at the Kusile power station, several NUM members were shot with rubber bullets, infuriating them even more, Mammburu said.

But after the picket, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan reopened the wage talks and offered an increase of 4.7%. Despite this, Mammburu said NUM members remain unhappy with their treatment by Eskom.

The conference will also see Sipunzi’s and Matosa’s factions face off. The conference has been marred by divisive election campaigns and “ill discipline from leaders”, Sipunzi said while delivering his secretariat report.

“Our regions are characterised by factionalism, tribalism, cliques, infighting and a lack of discipline among our leaders,” Sipunzi said.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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