• Cosatu said it was not informed of the appointment of an electricity minister before the State of the Nation Address.
  • The union said it supported the declaration of a national state of disaster but “cautioned” the government not to “syphon” funds as they did during Covid. 
  • General-secretary Solly Phetoe said he did not understand the role of the electricity minister since Eskom reported to the minister of public enterprises. 

Trade union federation Cosatu said it was left behind regarding Cabinet discussions and the proposed introduction of the electricity minister by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) this month.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Cosatu President Zingiswa Losi said the federation was not informed of the introduction and appointment of an electricity minister ahead of SONA.

“We did indicate after the State of the Nation Address that we had no idea of that ministry. We all heard [about it] for the first time when the president was making an announcement at the State of the Nation Address,” Losi said.

Losi said Cosatu, which is part of the tripartite alliance, needed clarification on the terms and conditions of the newly appointed electricity minister and said it was still waiting for a meeting with Ramaphosa and the ANC to get answers about the new role.

“What exactly would be the difference of that ministry in terms of… what it is expected to do in the [energy] crisis? Is it linked to the national state of disaster? Is it linked to the period of that state of disaster? Or is it a new ministry now that is going to be permanent even if he does his reshuffle? We’re waiting for a sit down for us to be able to get those answers,” she said.

Losi said that although the federation welcomed the state of disaster announced by Ramaphosa, she said the government should not repeat previous offences during Covid-19 and “syphon” funds for themselves.

“We don’t want a state of disaster that is meant for accumulation [for] politicians and certain businesspeople. It must be because we want to address a challenge that is highly affecting the economy and, ultimately, an economy that is unable to provide jobs and be able to deal with high levels of unemployment, inequality, and poverty in our country,” she said.

Cosatu general-secretary Solly Phetoe said the federation accepted the call for a state of disaster to stop the rolling power cuts that have weakened the country’s economy.

“Firstly, we have supported the call for a state of disaster to avoid load shedding for 24 months, and we thought that South Africans did not have 24 months to have an unreliable energy supply – unless if we have come to the conclusion that energy is no longer a key instrument to grow the economy,” he said.

Phetoe said a six-month-long state of disaster would grant the state-owned entity (SOE) access to enough money to buy the resources needed to revamp power stations but he said he did not understand the electricity minister’s role during this period.

“Now, whether the minister of electricity or the president is a part of that national state of disaster, we don’t know. Because a portfolio in government, established, [is] usually a long-term portfolio.

A minister is a minister. Which minister will want to be a minister for six months?” he said.

Phetoe said that even with the electricity minister in the Cabinet, Eskom would still have to report to Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan.

“This minister of electricity will have nothing to do with Eskom because Eskom will still account to the minister of public enterprise, so what exactly are the sources of electricity that this minister is going to be dealing with?” asked Phetoe.

He added that the federation welcomed the payout by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana to Eskom. “We welcome the allocation of halving the debt of Eskom that was done yesterday by the minister in [his] budget. It is welcomed, it is a little bit late, but it’s a move in the right direction,” Phetoe added.