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Renewable energy is necessary, but not at expense of jobs, says SAFTU

The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the privatisation of energy generation to capitalist companies and supports NUMSA’s call for the social ownership of the renewable energy project.

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe announced on 1 June that a new bidding window for the next phase of independent power producers (IPPs) will be launched in November, which he expects will inject R40bn-R50bn investment into the country, add an estimated 1800MW of electricity to the national grid and create at least 5 000 jobs during construction. These projects would add to the 27 renewable contracts which he signed earlier this year.

SAFTU is in favour of using renewable resources – sun, wind and water – to generate electricity and reduce the reliance of coal, which is both non-renewable and harmful to the environment and the health of the people around coal-fired power stations.

But this must be done in a way known as a “just transition” to environmentally friendly energy generation, in a way that protects the livelihoods of mining and energy workers and the lives of communities most affected by environmental pollution.

Radebe’s plans will do the opposite. 40 000 jobs will be lost, as mines, mostly in Mpumalanga, are closed. Thousands of families will suffer poverty and unemployment, in a nation already with 36% jobless and more than half the population living in abject poverty.

Capitalism is the cause of global warming, climate change and the destruction of our ecosystem, and the workers must not have to pay the price for their bosses’ irresponsibility, by losing their jobs in mines and power stations, as a result of handing over power generation to IPPs, which is a process towards the privatization of Eskom altogether.


SAFTU rejects the minister’s false narrative that IPP’s will create 61 000 jobs. Most existing renewable energy companies do not employ many workers, when compared to Eskom, and do not offer the same salaries, benefits or improved working conditions.

The is why NUMSA and Transform SA recently sought, but were refused, a court interdict against the further privatisation of energy generation, from renewable sources to. IPPs.

NUMSA resolved in 2012 to prevent the “just transition” being another capitalist concept: “The path to a low carbon economy must be based on worker-controlled, democratic social ownership of key means of production and means of subsistence. There is a need for long term collective planning of wealth and production and how needs are met”.

This is in line with the ILO’s “Guidelines for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”, which state that “Sustainable development is only possible with the active engagement of the world of work. Governments, employers, and workers are not passive bystanders, but rather agents of change, who are able to develop new ways of working that safeguard the environment, for present and future generations, eradicate poverty and promote social justice by fostering sustainable enterprises, and creating decent work for all.”


The South African government have not followed these principles. They, and their private partners in the IPP project, are disregarding the spirit and letter of the ILO guidelines towards a just transition with regard to workers and communities. Privatisation will do nothing to reverse South Africa’s crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but make it even worse.

The federation welcomes the idea of a Red-Green Alliance between workers and environmentalists, but fully agree with Professor Jacklyn Cock, an authority on both labour and environmental issues, that “The labour movement must own the process, undertake research on alternative job creation and formulate clear demands on the state. It must challenge dominant conceptions of a just transition that re-packages capitalism through notions like the “green economy”, or “green capitalism.”

SAFTU calls for a united response led by NUMSA and NUM to the privatization of energy generation and for a total rejection of to Eskom’s proposed 0% wage increase.

The issue of just transition from carbon economy to renewable energy will form an important element of the forthcoming Working Class Summit.