(Updates with protest details)
By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, March 1 Thousands of coal truck
drivers descended on South Africa's capital Pretoria on
Wednesday to protest against the country's renewable energy
programme, after President Jacob Zuma expressed support for the
sector last month.
In a speech to parliament on Feb. 10, Zuma said state
utility Eskom would sign new renewable energy contracts,
angering coal transport workers who say such contracts will lead
to 30,000 job losses in the coal industry.
Coal is used to generate the lion's share of South Africa's
power supply and job cuts are a particularly thorny issue in a
country where the unemployment rate is almost 27 percent.
"We are against the signing of the independent power
producer (IPP) programme," said Coal Transportation Forum
spokeswoman Mary Phadi. "All the mines that are producing coal
are going to be affected and the power stations will be forced
to shut down."
Phadi said about 2,000 protesters marched to Zuma's offices
in Pretoria and handed over a list of demands. Most wore
T-shirts with the logo #IPPsMustFall, in reference to
Independent Power Producers who produce renewables.
They had arrived in the capital in trucks, jamming highways
and blocking many motorists on their morning commute or school
"They will respond to us within seven days," Phadi said.
The president's office was not available to comment.
As the protest took place, however, Eskom's acting Chief
Executive Matshela Koko said the utility would not renew the
contracts of coal transporters supplying coal to Eskom.
"Effectively we're seeing Eskom using less and less coal
because of surplus capacity, negative energy growth and ongoing
boarding of the renewable IPPs," Koko said on Talk Radio 702.
Eskom said a coal agreement it has with the truck drivers
will not be renewed when it expires in May 2018. The utility
said the trucks only supply a portion of its coal, most of which
is transported to its power plants from mines through conveyer
belts and by rail.
Producers of solar and wind power have put pressure on
Eskom to sign more new renewable energy contracts.
Industry experts have said that Eskom slowed the pace of
agreeing new renewable energy contracts after power supply in
South Africa stabilized last year, following shortages in 2015
that led to power cuts across the country.
(Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by James
Macharia and Susan Fenton)