Thousands march against rising prices

Bonile Ngqiyaza, The Star, Johannesburg, 18 April 2008

Cosatu, SACP want Eskom to drop 53% tariff hike

'We are saying there's anger on the ground, and when that anger explodes, there's going to be war …"

With those words, Gauteng Cosatu chairperson Mosanku Tseki cajoled thousands of shop stewards as they gathered outside the Gauteng Legislature in Joburg yesterday.

Shop stewards had just wrapped up a four-hour provincial council, which was intended to mobilise the workers to attend May Day events and to finalise plans around some of the key events in Gauteng on that day.

The march, which started just after 1pm, was organised jointly by Cosatu and the South African Communist Party against high food prices and the ongoing electricity blackouts.

Cosatu and the SACP demanded that Eskom withdraw its demand for a 53% electricity price increase.

The marchers targeted Eskom's distribution office in Braamfontein and a Pick n Pay Family supermarket nearby.

Some of the placards read "Food Security = A caring society", "Workers will not pay for government and Eskom's lack of planning" and "We call for a moratorium on foodstuffs".

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande was at the forefront of the march. Next to him was acting Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini.

In their speeches, the two leaders emphasised that recent hikes in the price of food, including basic foodstuffs like bread and mealie meal, and collusion by food producers on prices would not be tolerated.

"We wish, as the SACP, that this 53% (electricity tariff) increase was a salary increase. We've always found it hard to get past 10% in increases," Nzimande told protesters in front of the well-guarded Eskom office.

His remarks were met with laughter and applause. "In fact, we are angry … even the little increases (we get) are now being stolen - through food prices and higher petrol increases," he said.

"We are against (the proposed 53% electricity tariff increase) not because we are irresponsible … the poor cannot absorb such an increase. Workers should not pay for mistakes they did not make.

"We now have a surplus in government - your money. We are saying take some of that money and pay … and subsidise some of that (53%) hike," said Nzimande to cheers.

In what appeared to be a reference to Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, who has described South Africa's problem as an emergency, Dlamini said the situation was a crisis. "There is a crisis in our country. Anybody who says there's no crisis is dreaming."

He added that load shedding would result in about 12 000 people losing their jobs "if this is allowed to continue. That can't be right."

Cosatu's memorandum to Eskom called for an urgent increase in electricity power generation and the development of alternative energy sources.

The federation also called for a review of the criteria for power cuts and said replacement criteria should avoid disruptions at hospitals, emergency services and essential services.

Cosatu threatened a general strike if there was no positive response within a month.


511 words