By Antonio Ruffini

22 February 2013 – Strike action has seen construction of the 4,800 MW Medupi power station in South Africa’s Limpopo province halted for over a month. Work was suspended at the power station, which is already over a year behind its original schedule, on January 16th 2013 after a dispute related to the payment of year-end bonuses.

According to the latest revised target, prior to the strike,commissioning of the first unit of the power station is scheduled for the end of 2013, with the original deadline for this to be commissioned having been May 2012. The strike now threatens even this twice extended deadline.

Eskom and the construction companies locked the site as a safety precaution as there has been the fear of violent action that could result in damage to property and personnel.

One of the companies whose workers are involved in the strike is Hitachi Power Africa which is 25% owned by Chancellor House Holdings, a funding arm of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Hitachi Power, which was given the boiler contract for Medupi also has the contract to  design, manufacture, supply, erect and commission six 800MW utility steam generators for the similarly sized Kusile power station in Mpumalanga province. The company is to supply 12 identical boiler units for Kusile and Medupi based on a standardised design.

According to a company release, the Kusile boilers will, upon commissioning be the most modern in South Africa with a plant operating efficiency increase of about 15% (from 33% to 37,5%) as compared to Eskom’s existing power plant fleet average efficiency.

However, the ethical question remains as to why a company that has a ruling political party as its shareholder should be awarded major contracts by a national public utility (whose shareholder is the government run by said political party). Apart from its involvement in the delays in the construction of Medupi, Hitachi Power remains deeply tainted by this association.