South African Union Threatens More Power Cuts Over Eskom Split

South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) threatened on Wednesday to cause more power cuts over the government’s decision to forge ahead with a plan to break up struggling state power firm Eskom.

Eskom produces more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity and the country has endured several rounds of power cuts this year due to unplanned outages at Eskom’s fleet of coal-fired power stations, denting economic output.

The NUM, one of the largest unions at Eskom and part of the COSATU union federation aligned with the governing party, fears the plan to split Eskom into separate units for generation, transmission and distribution will lead to Eskom being privatised.

On Tuesday Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan presented long-awaited details of the plan to break up Eskom and open up the power sector to greater competition.

“NUM is angered with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s decision to go ahead with the unbundling of Eskom,” the union said in a statement on Wednesday.

It made demands including that officials abandon the plan to split Eskom and cancel power purchase agreements with independent power producers.

“If these demands are not met we will shut down electricity generation, transmission and distribution, as such plunging the country into darkness,” the statement said.

A wage protest by unions last year forced Eskom into power cuts. Another large union at Eskom, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), also opposes the plan to split Eskom.

Analysts welcomed Gordhan’s plans announced on Tuesday but were sceptical that officials would follow through with them in full, given fierce opposition from unions and vested interests in the energy sector.