COSATU President Zingiswa Losi Address: National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)’s Just Energy Summit

Comrade Programme Director,

National Office Bearers of our revolutionary affiliate, NUM

Leaders, delegates and comrades,

Good morning comrades,

Thank you for inviting your Federation, COSATU, to join you for this important Summit.  We are looking forward to hearing the views of members from across NUM and most importantly to the marching orders that this gathering will give to us as we seek to navigate this difficult journey of an energy transition.

It is critical that Affiliates are seen to be leading at all times as workers battle to cope with change and fear the pain these uncertain times bring to the working class.  Members are looking to us as NUM and COSATU to lead in these turbulent times.

We dare not cede this responsibility to business whose mandate is the pursuit of profits, nor to government which by its nature will always be a site of class contestation.  It is only the trade union movement, and in particular the NUM and COSATU of Elijah Barayi which can provide this leadership to the working class.

Whilst others may be content to offer slogans and lamentations, we must focus on practical solutions and a militant defence of the needs and rights of the working class.

It is important that we diagnose our challenges correctly if we are to embark on the appropriate way forward.  Some countries are confronted by a climate change crisis.  Others by an economic crisis and yet others an energy crisis.  We unfortunately can tick the box for all crises and all of them are equally existential.

We have an unemployment rate of 42.1% and a 6 out of 10 young people cannot find work.  Our fragile economy remains battered by loadshedding.  The realities of climate change are increasingly wreaking havoc on working class communities.

We do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which crisis to tackle first.  We must deal with them simultaneously and if we are smart, then we will exploit these crises to transform our society from one that remains the world’s most unequal to that South Africa which belongs to all who live in it as envisaged in the Freedom Charter.

South Africa is at a cross roads.  Energy generation and ownership as we have known are rapidly changing.  We have a choice.  The transition as the former General Secretary of NUM, cde. Gwede Mantashe, correctly said, can simply be an energy transition which is not just, or we can drive the discourse as NUM and COSATU, and fight for it to be a Just Energy Transition.

Karl Marx noted the constant inevitability of change.  Change across all economic sectors is accelerating as technology develops and capital pursues profits. 

All of us here can recall jobs that were once common and now a distant memory.  The mining industry shed 600 000 jobs since the 1980s as industry has moved to automation.  Telkom slashed its headcount from 50 000 in 1994 to 12 000 today.  The Post Office today is paying the price for not adjusting to structural shifts in its sector.

Our task as the union movement is to ensure this Energy Transition is Just.  A JET is a trade union concept, and it is us who must define it.  We must ensure it protects and creates jobs both for those directly and indirectly employed.  We must ensure it creates vibrant communities and not ghost towns.  It must deploy capital and technology to solve our energy, climate change, unemployment, poverty and economic crises. 

This is a site of class contestation that we must occupy and not cede to business, government or NGOs alone.  If we sit on the sidelines, then we must not complain when we are disappointed with results that do not favour the working class.

A shortage of energy generation capacity is with the crises crippling Transnet, the number impediment to growing the economy and reducing unemployment today.  We are fortunate the rapid evolution of energy technology provides us the solutions to resolving this crisis and to reducing the effects of climate change simultaneously.

Energy technology, including renewable energy, is becoming increasingly affordable and efficient, these include all forms of energy generation capacity, from traditional ones of coal and hydro to nuclear, as well as more recent evolutions in wind and solar. 

We have seen positive developments in battery storage capacity which will see the generation capacity of renewable energy grow further.  These are exciting times and can yield solutions to many other crises as well.

COSATU has been deeply concerned that we have left renewable energy for too long to the private sector to monopolise, we have tied the hands of our public utility, Eskom for too long and not supported or enabled it to enter the renewable energy space not only as a buyer but more strategically as an owner of generation capacity.

The Federation drafted the Eskom Social Compact in 2019 championing the R254 billion debt relief package that is being rolled out today to free Eskom from its debt burden and allow it to focus on maintenance and new generation investments. 

We have raised our strong objections to efforts to hamstring Eskom from investing in its own renewable energy generation capacity.  We are pleased that government is moving away from this shortsighted restriction on Eskom.

It is critical Eskom expand its footprint in renewable energy.  We cannot afford to cede an entire energy sector to private capital.  If we are to ensure the survival of Eskom, then it must be allowed to expand its generation capacity across all forms of energy. 

We must not be shy in our defence of Eskom as a publicly owned utility company.  It is our most strategic economic asset.  It must continue to lead our and the region’s economic and industrial development.

At all times, we must remember that we cannot sustain an unemployment rate of 42.1%.  This is a ticking time bomb.  If we fail to defuse it, it will one day explode.  As we seek to lower our carbon foot print, not only in energy, but across all sectors of the economy and the ways in which we live, we must pursue opportunities that will upskill workers and create job opportunities.

We cannot afford to close power stations, when we have a shortage of energy generation capacity.  Stations which have reached the end of their viable and affordable life span, must be repurposed to alternative energy generation capacity. 

Not only must we ensure that no worker at Eskom will lose their job, we must equally ensure that the value chains and communities dependent upon Eskom and the coal mines that supply them too are not left behind.

We must celebrate the building of generation capacity across the three Cape provinces, in fact for some of these small rural poverty-stricken towns from Kenhardt to De Aar, these are welcome injections of investment and new jobs. 

Equally we must raise the needs of the many communities across rural towns of Mpumalanga and Limpopo where all coal mining and energy communities are.  Investments in new generation capacity must be prioritised in these communities not only to avoid creating ghost towns, but also because the transmission and distribution infrastructure exists and is available in these locations.

One of the pillars of the Eskom Social Compact, has been the call to revive our local manufacturing industry.  We need to invest in local factories to build solar panels, wind turbines and related technology.  More than R40 billion has been spent investing in renewable technology recently, most on imports from China.  This is money that we need to demand be spent on buying locally produced materials.  We cannot continue to be a warehouse for imports when our workers are looking for jobs.

Whilst we have many challenges as a country, we are fortunate with the amount of resources we have available to invest in the skills of workers and young people from our SETAs to our universities, TVET Colleges and the National Skills Funds. 

Yet every single year our SETAs have billions left in unspent funds and simultaneously businesses complain that we don’t produce the skills they need.  We are equally in danger of sending many white and blue collar workers to the unemployment queue in the near future unless we invest in the skills needed for the 4th industrial revolution.

Why are we not holding our SETAs accountable?  They are funded by workers’ monies, but we are allowing them to sleep whilst workers’ skills are not being invested in, and increasingly employers are hiring migrant workers at the expense of local workers.  This is not sustainable and if we do not act, we will see unemployment rise.

Some may argue, like the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, that climate change does not exist.  Well, it exists for the communities of KwaZulu-Natal who lost loved ones and homes in the floods last year.  It exists for the people of eGqeberha and the Karoo who are in real danger of running out of water. 

If temperatures continue to rise, we risk losing thousands of agricultural jobs and we will be in serious danger of food shortages.  17 of the 20 climate hotspots are in Africa.   

Climate change requires action, but it must be a Just Transition that mitigates climate change, invests in generation capacity, creates jobs and uplifts communities.  It must be planned and just, it must not create new crises as we seek to fix existing ones.

NUM like COSATU, is unashamedly in support for a socialist economy where workers own the means of product and reap the reward of their labour.  What is our roadmap to achieve this socialist vision?  Beyond saying “socialism is the future, build it now”.  What are our practical steps and timeframes?

The private sector is entering the energy sector.  Why are we not pushing back and demanding worker and community owned generation capacity?  Why are we abandoning this strategic means of production to private capital?  Our union and pension investment funds invest in hotels, casinos, travel agencies, the JSE.  Is it not time we invested in worker and community owned generation capacity? 

Why can’t we build solar panel factories through our union investment funds?  We can’t we build generation plants to supply our communities?  Is it not time that we breathe life into our calls for cooperatives and to empower our members and workers to own the means of production?  If the state is retreating, then let us advance and demand that workers be allowed to invest in and own their own generation capacity.

Much has been said about the JET Investment Plan.  COSATU and NUM have been clear we are disappointed how it was drafted, and that labour was not involved.  We remain concerned about a JET IP that is 91% based on loans in foreign currency. 

The loans may be concessional with low interest rates and provide badly needed funds for new generation capacity.  But those concessions will be wiped out when we are required to repay them in foreign currencies and our Rand continuously depreciates.

If we need loans, then let us source them from South African banks and negotiate favourable interest rates.  We should avoid overexposing ourselves to dollar denominated debt that we will struggle to repay.  We should learn from the devastating experiences of other African countries that walked blindly into debt traps and lost their sovereignty as a consequence.

We should as NUM and COSATU engage with our sister unions internationally to learn from their experiences in managing a Just Energy Transition.  In particular let us engage our comrades in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Vietnam and China who have made major strides in ensuring a JET but have also had to overcome similar challenges and setbacks.  This is a global struggle and not one unique to us alone.

Comrades allow me to conclude here.  We look forward to the resolutions and way forward from this august JET Summit and most critically to marrying them with those of COSATU’s JET Summit earlier this year.

Our task remains to diagnose the challenges facing workers, identify solutions and mobilise the working class, government, business and communities to action them.

Thank you.  Amandla!