Price crisis ‘a ploy to hurt Zuma’

Sibongakonke Shoba, Business Day, Johannesburg, 18 April 2008

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) acting president S’dumo Dlamini says the government’s nonintervention in the “crisis” of the rising cost of living is part of a ploy by “some people” to make things difficult for the new Jacob Zuma-led African National Congress leadership.

Speaking at the Gauteng Cosatu shop stewards council in Johannesburg — before a march in protest against rising food and electricity prices — Dlamini said SA’s problems started after the Polokwane conference, where Zuma defeated President Thabo Mbeki for the party’s top job.

He said the problems began with the selection of the SABC board, which Cosatu was against, followed by the fuel price increases and then the recent electricity price and interest rates hikes.

“As an ordinary person standing here, I see people who are not happy with the Polokwane outcome and (they are) now making life difficult for the Jacob Zuma leadership.”

Cosatu was one of Zuma’s vocal supporters ahead of and at the Polokwane conference.

Dlamini said workers had no choice but to panic as the country was facing a crisis of rising prices while government officials blamed it on globalisation. “This confirms what we said 10 years ago, that Gear (the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy) was wrong as an economic policy,” Dlamini said.

When Eskom broached the need for more power plants in 1997, the government ignored the plea because officials wanted to privatise the power utility.

“Government did not invest in more plants to generate electricity because they wanted to privatise Eskom so that those who had an interest could have Eskom as a source of income in the future.”

He said Cosatu was opposed to the proposed 53% electricity price increase as it would hurt workers and the poor.

“The president (Mbeki) has apologised. But ministers who were in charge of departments responsible for this crisis say we must all take responsibility ... we say workers can’t take responsibility for your mistakes.”

South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande said he was one of the people who had spoken out against the government’s plans to privatise Eskom. “When we said that, we were insulted, called ultra-left and told we don’t understand the broader picture.” He said the government should subsidise the 53% increase.

The SACP and Cosatu leadership delivered memorandums to Eskom and Pick n Pay demanding that Eskom withdraw its 53% increase application within seven days and calling for an energy summit. The demands included the provision of alternative energy solutions and energy-saving measures.

On food, they demanded a moratorium on increases and stiffer penalties for those guilty of price-fixing. They demanded that business and the government work together to fast-track the expropriation of land, and called for a full transformation process of the food production industry.

Meanwhile, the cabinet expressed its concern about “collusive behaviour” in the food industry. Briefing the media following Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, government communications head Themba Maseko said the government was developing a strategy to address this challenge.


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