||Yahoo News 21 January 2012
AS YET another wildcat strike broke out at Eskom's Medupi project in Lephalale this week, evidence came to light that the state-owned utility has resorted to spying tactics to mitigate risks related to labour unrest.
Documents and e-mails forwarded to Business Times reveal that Eskom contracted the services of intelligence support company Swartberg to spy on employees, communities, unions, political parties, green lobbies and government officials.
Clever guises were used to infiltrate communities such as social upliftment projects, where agents were placed to gather information and influence people's attitudes towards the project and company management. Local scouts were also recruited to keep an ear to the ground.
Swartberg advised Eskom to send out positive media propaganda on what the company was doing to better the lives of communities close to the Medupi project in order to influence perceptions.
Labour attorney Craig Kirchmann said, depending on the tactics deployed, such actions were not necessarily illegal but were ethically dubious.
It is not illegal to supply communities with soup while also picking up on their political sentiment, but they are definitely playing a smoke-and-mirrors type of game, he said.
Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe would not confirm whether or not such action had been taken by Eskom, but said the company was keeping close to communities due to the importance of Medupi to communities and also to the rest of South Africa.
A source said Eskom's top management is aware of dealings with Swartberg and of meetings held between Swartberg head Lukas Swart and Medupi general manager Roman Crooks.
He said tactical information was supplied to the company to get an advantage over unions during negotiations.
The 4,764 MW Medupi power plant will be one of the five biggest coal-fired power stations in the world once commissioned. It is being built to plug the power shortfall in South Africa.
Medupi should have been commissioned in 2012, but a number of delays have pushed the deadline back to the end of this year and have pushed the project's price tag to more than R120bn.
In 2011, thousands of protesters torched buses and damaged vehicles during a strike at the Medupi site. The police said residents claimed Eskom had employed foreign boilermakers without considering locals for the positions.
In September last year, workers contracted by Murray & Roberts Construction and Grinaker-LTA damaged several vehicles and some equipment at the power plant.
The workers protested because the contracts of about 600 local employees were due to end.
This week, workers embarked on a violent strike over various issues, including a lack of training and inadequate working conditions.
Swartberg intelligence showed that politicians and lobby groups were often instrumental in fueling violent attitudes.
The Swartberg documents showed that Lephalale leader Jack Maeko hosted an ANC rally in Shongane last year which was attended by energy minister Dipuo Peters.
He told the crowd to get educated to avoid white people at Medupi from f***ing them around, since the white people at Medupi were uneducated.
The documents also revealed plans by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union to delay Medupi in 2013 by engaging in joint-venture operations with green lobby groups such as Greenpeace, Earth Life and GroundWorks.
Swartberg also worked on Transnet's multi-product pipeline from Johannesburg to Durban that experienced a three-year delay and had budget overruns of R14-billion.
This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times