Angry community chokes Eskom coal supply

(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)
(Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Exxaro’s North Block Complex (NBC) coal mine, near Belfast in Mpumalanga, has stopped transporting coal to Eskom power stations due to a blockage by disgruntled local residents.

They have allegedly been intimidating and preventing truck drivers from moving coal out of NBC since last month. They are trying to force the mine to give transport tenders to locally owned companies.

NBC mainly supplies Eskom’s Arnot power station.

However, the power utility appears to be indifferent about the fact that piles of coal from NBC have not been delivered to its stations.

The parastatal’s spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe, said the halt in Exxaro’s supply had not yet affected the function of the power stations because they had other suppliers.

Businesspeople and residents in the Emakhazeni Local Municipality allegedly began intimidating the mine’s workers on May 9, after Eskom and Exxaro’s seven-year contract expired.

When violent confrontations ended on May 17, work resumed.

Exxaro spokesperson Mzila Mthenjane said Eskom truck drivers had not collected coal since Thursday May 24, because local residents had been threatening them.

“Members of the Emakhazeni community are demanding that they be awarded contracts to transport coal. We understand that Eskom made an offer to the community members to resolve the issue,” Mthenjane said.

“Exxaro is extremely concerned about these developments and has been facilitating discussions between Eskom and the local community. We continue to do everything in our power to ensure that coal is being produced and loaded on to trucks. We are cooperating with all parties to come to a speedy resolution for the supply of coal.”

The company appealed to people not to intimidate drivers and allow coal to be loaded on to the trucks while negotiations continue.

Apparently, more than 100 000 tons of coal have not been collected from NBC as a result of these events. Mthenjane did not respond to a question about how much coal had been stockpiled at NBC.

Phasiwe said Eskom and Exxaro concluded a coal contract in April 2010, which expired in December.

“In that contract, the transportation was split between Eskom-contracted transporters (70%) and Exxaro NBC mine-contracted transporters (30%). The parties then entered into a six-month short-term contract, which expires this month, according to which 100% of the coal transportation was to be executed by Eskom.”

It was this short-term contract that angered the locals because they were not part of it. Phasiwe said Eskom was negotiating a contract extension with Exxaro and intended to obtain authorisation to carve out part of the transportation deal for the community, which the mine would contract.

“Fortunately, NBC is not the only coal supplier to Arnot,” he said when asked about the impact this stoppage in supply was having on the Arnot Power Station.

Local business forum chairperson Mshoza Malaza said they were not happy that locals were excluded when the mine entered into the short-term contract with Eskom.

“The mine did well in empowering two local transport companies, but that is limited. They have not done well in developing the locals in terms of skills development and bursaries. They have developed more external people,” Malaza said.

“We can’t give them credit on poverty alleviation and infrastructure projects within the community. They make decisions in their head office in Pretoria and it’s always people who don’t understand the local dynamics. They’re not transparent on many things.”

Malaza said internships were not benefiting locals and the company’s social labour plan did not have any impact.

Municipal mayor Thomas Ngwenya has apparently been involved in the NBC matter. However, City Press was unable to reach him for comment.

Exxaro’s Mthenjane said they were monitoring the situation as the safety of their employees was a priority.

“No jobs are in jeopardy because of this.”

Phasiwe said Eskom had engaged in talks with the mine, residents and the Emakhazeni council regarding coal transportation contracts for local businesses in the contract extension.

In another development, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) this week walked out of the second round of wage negotiations with Eskom. It accused the power utility of having a “hostile attitude towards workers”.

The union represents 10 000 workers at the power utility.

It claimed Eskom brought “specialised security armed with high-calibre weapons” to the negotiation venue in Woodmead, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

Numsa and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) rejected the 0% increase opening offer cash-strapped Eskom put on the table.

Instead, the metalworkers’ union is demanding a 15% increase across the board, a housing allowance increase of R2 000, the banning of labour brokers, the insourcing of workers such as cleaners and security guards, paid maternity leave for six months and paid paternity leave for one month.

The NUM has similar demands, but wants the housing allowance increased from R3 000 to R7 000. – Fin24 contributed to this article

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