S. African opposition voices concern over alleged racial witch hunt

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CAPE TOWN, Feb. 19 (Xinhua/GNA) – South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has voiced concern over an alleged attempt by electricity utility Eskom to retrench skilled white employees as a worsening power crisis grips the country. 

“We cannot afford a racial witch hunt which is both illegal and detrimental to Eskom’s future,” the DA said on Monday.  

The DA said these retrenchments come at a time that Eskom requires skilled and experienced technicians, irrespective of their race, to bring stability at the power utility.  

For the past few days, the state-run parastatal, which provides about 95 percent of the electricity consumed in South Africa, has implemented the most severe load shedding for years, plunging large parts of the country into darkness and disrupting economic activities.  

“It cannot be that Eskom, which poses the biggest economic risk to South Africa, would target hard-working employees at a time of such a major crisis,” said DA Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises Natasha Mazzone. 
Eskom has been blamed for poor management, which is among the major factors that have led to the power crisis.  

Eskom has been in dire straits due to high levels of debt and default risk. The utility’s debts amount to 420 billion rand (about 30 billion U.S. dollars), prompting the Department of Public Enterprises to warn last week that the utility would cease to exist by April this year if it remains at its current trajectory. 

According to a recent report by the Rapport newspaper, Eskom wants to reduce its qualified white workforce by 1,308 over the next year, among them engineers and managers, as part of its workforce transformation. 
The plan comes as the result of pressure from the Department of Labor which wants to reduce the number of white employees to reflect the country’s demographics, the report said.  

These white staff cuts are needed to comply with South Africa’s strict provisions of the Equity Act although Eskom is facing grave consequences of its serious skills shortage, according to the report.  

Eskom cannot simply retrench employees based on the color of their skin, Mazzone said, adding that the South African constitution is clear about discrimination on the basis of race.  

“If this is indeed true, Eskom will not only be in contravention of the constitution, but they would also be shooting themselves and the South African public in the foot,” said Mazzone.  

He said he would write to Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, urging him to urgently clarify and condemn the comments which have allegedly been made by Eskom. 

Gordhan needs to categorically state if this is a government position, Mazzone said.    

What is needed now more than ever is stability and policy certainty in this entity, he said.  

Despite mounting concern over the alleged “racial witch hunt,” Eskom has neither confirmed nor denied the news. A call to its office for comment went unanswered.  

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